Dr. Walter Hader
For 45 years one name in Saskatchewan has been synonymous with multiple sclerosis research and treatment:
Dr. Walter Hader.
It’s a career that almost never happened, Dr. Hader reports. He was born in Verdun and spent his early childhood in Elkhorn, Manitoba. His family relocated to Hamilton which led to Dr. Hader attending the University of Ottawa, graduating from medical school in 1958. After doing his internship, he decided to join the military.
“I spent four years in the RCAF as a flight surgeon then a year of internal medicine in Halifax before being hired for a position in Saskatoon. I remember driving up Highway 11 in June of 1964. Mary [his wife] and I wondered what the hell we were doing.”
Dr. Hader quickly realized the potential of Saskatoon, where he first worked with Dr. Hunt in the Department of Rehabilitation. In 1967 he became the first Fellow written and certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation west of Toronto.
“At that time it was a new field of study with only three doctors of physiatry, including Dr. Hunt, in western Canada,” he says.
His long term of service to MS began shortly after. “It was interesting how it started. Bessie Sweet, who was president of the local chapter of the MS Society, called me one day, and asked if I’d join their board and attend some meetings in Winnipeg.
“I remember it was a big affair and still have the tapes from it. We formed what was then called the Prairie Division of Multiple Sclerosis, incorporating Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. I served as president from 1969 to 1980, when it dissolved into three provincial chapters.”
In those 11 years, Dr. Hader says the organization worked to raise awareness of MS. “We were also successful in fundraising and by 1980 had raised over $1.5 million, most of which went for research in Toronto.”
Professionally, Dr. Hader notes a parallel course. “I became interested in MS while taking a neurology course from Dr. Bailey. He had a patient on his ward who had MS. One of the first things I did was a survey of every patient on the ward from 1954 to that time, which was 15 years of charts that I put together.” That effort resulted in a study, one of the first to note and publicize the high prevalence of MS.
At the same time as he was treating rehab patients, Dr. Hader developed an interest in genetic epidemiology. “In the early days we didn’t have any drugs to use, other than valium for spasticity. In 1971, I received a major grant of $25,000 to study dantrolene, which was one of the first drugs used for MS.”
The physician has conducted more than a dozen other drug studies in the past 40 years. While retired from practice, Dr. Hader still publishes papers and is currently working on what he calls an ‘epitaph’ for the Canadian Medical Journal – a detail of what happened to his original course of people.
Naturally, the history of the current MS Center can be traced back to work Dr. Hader began in 1972. “I devoted one full day every week to just MS patients. In 1979, I received funding to hire a nurse and a secretary.”
More concrete plans developed when the new Saskatoon City Hospital opened in 1993 and medical departments in Saskatoon were shuffled. “Officials from the hospital invited me to take over a 5,600 square foot space for research. We received $300,000 in start-up funding from the Kinsmen; the hospital added another $697,000, and there was also some from the Colleges of Medicine and Dentistry.”
“My vision was for genetics research because that seemed to be a big thrust at the time,” Dr. Hader says, noting Cameco funded marketing for the center’s initial fundraiser. As a result, it received naming rights and the Cameco MS Neuroscience Center was born.