World-renowned reconstructive sciences institute celebrates 25 years of innovation

    Institute for Reconstructive Sciences in Medicine pays tribute to co-founders during research symposium and gala on Feb. 8

    By Amanda McCarthy on February 7, 2019

    What started out as a joint venture between Edmonton prosthodontist Johan Wolfaardt and plastic surgeon Gordon Wilkes has formed into a world-renowned clinic focused on helping people get back to living their best lives—people like former patient Steven Csorba.

    In 2003, Csorba was diagnosed with stage 3 throat and neck cancer. In 2005, he became one of the earliest jaw reconstruction patients at the Institute for Reconstructive Sciences in Medicine (iRSM).

    In 2019, he’s an advocate for cancer survivors and the life-changing research happening at iRSM—research that gave Csorba the tools to help him make a comeback.

    “Given the complex and sophisticated surgical procedures and reconstructive techniques/planning for head and neck cancer treatment, the humanizing approach iRSM used was unexpected and actually helped me to maintain my identity and life focus despite some very dramatic and harsh experiences,” explained Csorba.

    For the last 25 years, iRSM has been providing expertise in surgery, medicine, dentistry, rehabilitation medicine, engineering and computing science for head and neck reconstructive treatments and rehabilitative care. Work being produced by leading researchers has resulted in the institute being featured in Avenue Magazine’s ‘Top 40 Under 40’ several times.

    And now it’s time to celebrate.

    On February 8, 2019, the institute is toasting to its success with a research symposium, featuring international guest speakers and a black tie gala at the Fairmont Hotel MacDonald.

    The event will commemorate the institute’s 25th anniversary, recognizing co-founders Wolfaardt and Wilkes’ commitment to building a patient-first research facility.

    “Since iRSM’s inception, everything has come down to helping the patients we see every day. We want to continue to further our research and create the technologies needed to give our patients the best quality of life possible,” said Hameed Khan, iRSM executive director.

    Csorba, as one of those patients whose life has been positive changed from the services provided at iRSM, couldn’t be more honoured to share his story as the event’s keynote speaker.

    “My journey with iRSM actually began many years before I was diagnosed with cancer. I had an opportunity to meet with Dr. Wolfaardt regarding a project that required archiving 60,000 images showing procedures with patients undertaken by COMPRU/iRSM, so I was quite familiar with the leading-edge head and neck maxillofacial surgical interventions and patient care commitment that the iRSM team is known for.”

    Known as the Craniofacial Osseointegration and Maxillofacial Prosthetic Rehabilitation Unit (COMPRU) from 1989 to 1993, iRSM—which is now a joint initiative between the University of Alberta, Alberta Health Services and Covenant Health—is one of a very limited number of centres world-wide that is an acknowledged international leader in the provision of both autogenous and alloplastic reconstructive care.

    But it wasn’t easy to get here.

    With a few pieces of acquired equipment thanks to a $25,000 donation from the Mayfield Rotary Club, Wolfaardt and Wilkes were able to treat their first facial reconstruction patient in 1989.

    In 1992, Alberta Health and Wellness was able to provide funding to the surgeons to take patients on a case-by-case basis. But COMPRU was destined to be more.

    “In late 1987, when we first began discussing the possibility of providing these exciting new treatment options to patients, we had no idea where this would lead us,” said Wolfaardt. “We lacked funding and did not know what kind of patient demand there would be for these services. To see our dreams come to fruition over the past 25 years with a purpose-built facility, unique in Canada, specifically designed to care for these patients and full of dedicated health-care professionals and researchers has been very rewarding.”

    Wilkes feels the same, adding that while the build-up has been exciting, more so is looking forward to the next 25 years

    “I congratulate iRSM on their 25th anniversary and know they will have a successful 25 more years in research, teaching and pushing the envelope when it comes to medical modernization, patient care and innovation in rehabilitation,” said Bob Haennel, dean, Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, the University of Alberta’s lead for the research arm of iRSM.

    Over the years, the institute may have changed the face of medical reconstruction (while literally restoring faces and ears), but their patient-first approach has remained the same.

    Csorba is someone who knows that from experience.

    “iRSM takes the continuum of care one step further by treating the patient as a human being and not someone who has an illness, a disease. They make you feel like you’re part of a family—you feel like you, the person, are being taken care of.

    I look forward to seeing where iRSM goes from here. I know it can only be up.”