May 15, 2024

How successful treatment inspired Calgary philanthropist to fund life-changing research

Bud McCaig’s founding gift to McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health ensures people like Judy Henry, who has a knee condition, can continue to enjoy an active lifestyle
Judy Henry walking down a hill outside on a nice day.
Judy Henry is back to walking up to 15 km a day, seven months after a knee surgery thanks to research at the McCaig Institute. Adrian Shellard, for the University of Calgary

J.R. (Bud) McCaig knew first-hand what it was like to live with rheumatoid arthritis and after being successfully treated in his hometown, he was inspired to help improve treatments for others. 

The Calgary businessman and philanthropist, who underwent surgeries to repair both of his knees and the joints in his wrists and hands in the late 1980s, was introduced to Dr. Marv Fritzler, PhD'71, MD'74, a researcher and physician at the University of Calgary, and Dr. Cy Frank, MD'76, a young orthopedic surgeon. They talked about wanting to improve care for people with arthritis. 

It prompted McCaig, LLD'98, to become actively involved with raising money for a new facility at UCalgary’s Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) to bring together discovery-science researchers with clinical practitioners to improve the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of arthritis. In 1989, McCaig and fellow community leader Dick Haskayne, LLD'97, created the Western Orthopedic and Arthritis Research Foundation to fundraise for the new space and in March 1992, the McCaig Centre for Joint Injury and Arthritis officially opened in the Heritage Medical Research Building on UCalgary’s Foothills campus. 

“This is a world-class facility,” McCaig said during the opening of the centre. “When I became an arthritis patient six or seven years ago with deteriorated hands, wrists and knees, I began to appreciate the great competence of these people. I sincerely believe it will make a difference in unlocking the causes of arthritis and improving treatments.” 

Bud McCaig

Bud McCaig

Leading the way in bone and joint health research

The McCaig Institute is one of seven health research institutes at the CSM, made up of members from across the university. It houses the Centre for Mobility and Joint Health (the MoJo), a facility equipped with advanced imaging, movement assessment and diagnostic imaging tools. These are used for a range of bone and joint research, including osteoporosis and arthritis.  

Since its inception, the institute has led the way in orthopedics innovations. In the ’90s, inaugural director Cy Frank developed a less-invasive treatment for joint injuries, using arthroscopic procedures. In 2012, he reduced wait time for hip and knee surgeries by creating assessment clinics that streamlined intake and allowed for more surgeries to be performed.  

The former director passed away in 2015, but the contributions he made to the McCaig Institute continue to impact patients and the health-care system.

“Changing the model of how people are put through a surgical pathway resulted in 45 per cent more surgeries being done. For patient care, there were fewer complications, fewer readmissions, and better quality of life. Those were all massive benefits that this work brought to orthopedic care in Alberta,” says Dr. Cheryl Barnabe, MSc'11, current director of the McCaig Institute and a rheumatologist.

McCaig continued to lend his support, and, with his wife, Ann, made a founding gift in 2004 to the centre that was eventually renamed the McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health. He passed away a year later at the age of 75, but his legacy lives on.  

The McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health is now leading the way in joint injury treatments, bone health research and diagnosis of autoimmune diseases.  

Jeff McCaig, Bud’s son, says his father was an optimist who always believed in the work being done at the institute.

“One of the phrases I remember him saying quite often was, ‘There’s brighter days ahead’ and the idea that there might be better, improved ways to treat arthritis was really appealing to him. He was inspired by (Marv and Cy’s) enthusiasm about what might be possible,” says Jeff. 

Celebrating 10 Years and Beyond

The institute is also making a global impact with a study funded by the Canadian Space Agency. In partnership with NASA, the European Space Agency and astronauts from around the world, the study followed 17 astronauts between 2015 and 2022.  It found the permanent bone loss astronauts experienced in space was equal to a decade of age-related bone loss on Earth. This accelerated loss gives researchers clues about how age-related bone loss occurs in the body. Following the astronauts as they recover their bone density has important implications for potential treatments.  

“Working with NASA is not only a really great opportunity to bring our science to an international platform, it also means we can learn how to intervene to prevent and treat osteoporosis,” says Barnabe.

The McCaig Institute is also a leader in diagnosing autoimmune diseases of the joints and muscles through autoantibody research at the CatalystDX lab, formerly Mitogen Advanced Diagnostics. By studying antibodies — proteins in the blood that trigger autoimmune disease or alert clinicians to an underlying disease — researchers can diagnose autoimmune diseases earlier and determine which forms of treatment will be most effective. 

Calgary woman grateful to McCaig Institute for lifelong mobility  

Judy Henry first started noticing issues with her knees when she was in high school. As an active teenager who played soccer, baseball and volleyball, the pain and swelling she was experiencing was making it difficult to do the activities she enjoyed.    

By the time she was in her early ‘20s, her ACL, one of the key ligaments that help stabilize the knee joint, was almost fully torn so she sought treatment — a major reconstruction with Cy Frank. 

She went on to have six more surgeries on both knees, performed by Frank. As well as allowing her to stay active, her outcomes were part of valuable research that allowed Frank to improve treatment for this type of chronic injury.

“I was able to go from 2009 to 2023, so 14 years, without having a surgery after the last allograft transplant (tissue transplanted from another person) that I had. So that was a big breakthrough,” says Henry.

Judy Henry skiing

Judy Henry is an avid skier who looks forward to getting back on the slopes soon.

Seven months after undergoing her last surgery in 2023, the 60-year-old Calgarian and passionate skier is now back to walking 10 to 15 kilometres a day and looks forward to getting back on the slopes soon.

“It’s been an absolute gift to me, and I have such gratitude for what the McCaig Institute does. The work that's been put into learning and putting the patients first allows us to lead a very normal life. That's amazing,” says Henry.

Henry feels strongly that McCaig Institute research has allowed her to stay highly active and keep up with her grandchildren.  

“If I wasn’t active, I wouldn't have been as happy. We have grandkids that I want to play with and get down on the ground with,” she says.

“I wouldn't be here, if it wasn't for those donors, and the institutes and the collaborations that I've been involved in — the expertise and advancement in technology is huge.”

Philanthropy powers McCaig Institute into the future

Bud McCaig made a transformative gift to the McCaig Institute and his children Jeff, JoAnn and Melanie have continued his legacy. In 2017, a subsequent gift through the McCaig Institute Foundation has ensured the institute can continue to provide life-changing bone and health research for years to come.

“Today in the institute I’m most proud of the way they’re moving forward,” says Marilyn McCaig, BEd'75, Jeff’s wife. “Seeing the new generation continuing and coming along and giving patients hope and better outcomes is what’s inspiring to us.”

“My hope for the future of the McCaig Institute is that it is able to find cures for arthritis and if that’s not possible to at least find modalities of care that improve people’s lives in that they have mobility for much longer,” adds Jeff.  

The McCaigs’ generosity has also sparked thousands of others to invest in the institute — through large and small gifts — all contributing to healthier lives.    

This includes student scholarships made possible by gifts from Calgary philanthropists Richard Singleton and his late wife Linda, as well as the Wood family who have funded the Wood Forum, an annual public forum on bone and joint health research.

“The support we receive permits us to bring all of the pieces together to make a difference to those living with bone and joint diseases and continue the work to know how to maintain bone and joint wellness throughout one’s life,” says Barnabe.  

“Our partners recognize how critical the research is, such as using innovative technology to help better describe what's going on in the bone, the joint and the immune system, the need to provide education to the community, and make impacts on clinical care such as improving arthritis diagnosis and treatment.”  

In 2024, the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) at the University of Calgary is celebrating 10 years of shaping healthier lives sparked by philanthropy, thanks to Geoff Cumming’s historic $100-million gift. The medical school’s seven research institutes are marking up to three decades of national and international excellence, powered by the generosity of their founding families and support of CSM donors both large and small. Groundbreaking discoveries by each institute have directly benefited children, youth and adults in Calgary, across the country and around the world. Together, our community has helped propel UCalgary to its ranking as a top research university in Canada while strongly positioning the university on the global map for health research.

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