Nov. 5, 2014

Calgary family donates $10 million to support brain health for kids

Owerko Centre created within ACHRI for research into neurodevelopmental disorders
Calgary philanthropists Stan and Marge Owerko (second from right and left) donate $10 million to help children with brain injury and illness.

Calgary philanthropists Stan and Marge Owerko (second from right and left) donated $10 million.

Calgary philanthropists Stan and Marge Owerko have donated $10 million to the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation to help children with injury and illness of the brain.

A portion of the gift will help to create the Owerko Centre at the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI)  — a new research space that will provide greater opportunity for scientists to collaborate and innovate, particularly in research focused on neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD and autism spectrum disorder. The Owerko Centre is expected to open in February 2015 in the Child Development Centre at the University of Calgary. 

Neurodevelopment disorders fall under the University of Calgary’s brain and mental health strategic research theme, one of the six themes guiding the university toward its Eyes High goals.

Dr. Jon Meddings, dean of the Cumming School of Medicine, points to the importance of research. “Science matters. The road to better health care for children with neurological disorders is through research. Better understanding of disease leads to better health care. At the Cumming School of Medicine we take research into brain and mental health seriously and we are incredibly grateful to the Owerkos and the foundation.”

Dr. Brent Scott, executive director of ACHRI, expressed his gratitude to the family for this important donation, which builds upon the strengths of pediatric brain health and neurodevelopment and mental health research already established at the institute. “The Owerkos' gift will be a catalyst for growth and increased productivity of an already successful group of clinicians and scientists whose research is focused upon understanding the biologic basis for common childhood developmental and mental health disorders and identifying new and better treatments.  We are so grateful to their generosity,” says Scott.

Dr. Jong Rho leads ACHRI’s behaviour and the developing brain research theme and has contributed his expertise to the building of this core strength at ACHRI. “With this exceptional support from the Owerko family, we will work to improve the experience for families by integrating programs and helping them navigate services within the health system and community. And through our research, we will build knowledge and develop treatments to benefit children here, across Canada and around the world,” says Dr. Rho, who is the division head of Pediatric Neurology at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, professor of pediatrics and clinical neurosciences, and holder of the Dr. Robert Haslam Chair in Child Neurology. 

The Owerkos have also set up the Owerko Family Fund for Brain Health at the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation — a special fund to which friends and other members of the community can contribute. In 2012, the Owerko family made a $5 million donation to the Alberta Children’s Hospital, which was the largest donation ever to the hospital in pediatric brain health.

“We are so grateful to Stan and Marge for understanding the crucial importance of brain health for children and for continuing to help champion this cause,” says Saifa Koonar, president and CEO, Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation. “Their generosity is both incredibly wonderful and humbling.”

“Brain-related health issues can have serious life-long consequences,” says Brenda Huband, vice-president and chief health operations officer, central and southern Alberta, Alberta Health Services. “We want to thank the Owerko family for appreciating how essential it is that we all work together to better understand and address brain disorders so children can have the healthiest futures possible.”

“For the last two years, Marge and I have had the opportunity to work closely with specialists at the Alberta Children’s Hospital in pursuit of their goals and aspirations for the hospital, and in particular the brain health program for the children,” says Stan Owerko. “With their boundless energy and passion, they have achieved some incredible successes in a very short period of time. They have been an inspiration for Marge and me to elevate our support for them to pursue even greater achievements for the betterment of children here in Alberta, in Canada and in more far-reaching places.”