Dr. Bonnie Henry brings wealth of global experience to B.C.’s COVID-19 response

On the age of seven, Bonnie Henry accompanied her household to the hospital the place her older sister Lynn needed to have her appendix eliminated. The expertise left an enduring impression on B.C.’s future provincial well being officer.

“That was her first expertise of going into the hospital, and in that second she realized that that is what I wish to do: I wish to be a physician,” recollects Lynn Henry, sitting at her sister’s eating room desk.

A college photograph of Bonnie Henry, age seven. (Submitted by Lynn Henry)

A month or so in the past, not many Canadians would have been capable of identify, not to mention acknowledge, their province’s high public well being official. However within the midst of a worldwide pandemic, Henry is certainly one of many well being officers throughout the nation who’ve turn out to be family names.

As an illustration, Henry’s choice to chop her personal hair made headlines.

“I did do a few of my very own tinkering,” joked Henry at a latest information briefing, the place she apologized to her hairdresser. 

Henry admitted to ‘tinkering’ along with her hair, assuring British Columbians that she didn’t go towards her personal restrictions towards visiting a salon. (Lynn Henry)


“Clearly she was the one who put the order in place that each one salons had been closed, so her stylist was fairly prepared to go away the directions on the doorstep,” stated Lynn, who lives in Toronto however has been staying along with her sister in Victoria since earlier than the pandemic started.

“It was fairly a hilarious second for us each to attempt to work out the directions…. I used to be astonished and amused and barely dismayed by how viral all of it went.”

Whereas the highlight and adulation could also be new to Henry, the pressures of a job that impacts 1000’s of lives is one thing with which she’s had loads of expertise.

Turning into the highest doc

Henry assumed the place of B.C.’s high physician in February 2018, following the retirement of her colleague Dr. Perry Kendall. 

“She’s an instance of grace below strain — of honesty, straightforwardness, empathy and communication,” Kendall stated in an interview. “I do not assume I might have executed the job in addition to she’s doing.”

Kendall stated Henry’s background makes her “the precise particular person on the proper place on the proper time.”

Whereas finishing her medical diploma at Dalhousie College in Nova Scotia, Henry spent a big period of time at sea as a medical officer with the Canadian navy. 

She was deployed on the Canadian Forces Base in Esquimalt, on Vancouver Island. 

WATCH | Henry talks about why she selected epidemiology as a discipline of examine

Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about why she selected epidemiology as a discipline of examine. 0:57

“She certified in diving, as a flight surgeon, and was the one doctor within the Canadian fleet at one time on a warship,” stated Kendall.

“I believe it gave her a fantastic sense of command, management and a way of presence. And likewise the flexibility to present orders and to acknowledge the way you do have to get organized in emergency conditions.”

A world outreach 

Following her time with the navy, Henry navigated via a lot of pressing international well being initiatives within the span of simply three years.

In 2000, she labored with the World Well being Group and UNICEF on a polio eradication program in Pakistan. The next 12 months, she went to Gulu, Uganda, to assist fight an Ebola outbreak.

Within the early 2000s, Henry labored with the WHO’s polio eradication program in Pakistan and helped combat an Ebola outbreak in Uganda. (Submitted by Lynn Henry)

She credit these experiences with making ready her for the complexities of a worldwide response {that a} pandemic like COVID-19 has required. 

“Having these worldwide connections actually helps you perceive among the again story of what is taking place in numerous international locations,” Henry stated in an interview. “That is been very useful for us right here in Canada.”

On the entrance strains of SARS

The 2002-2003 SARS epidemic is believed to have killed 774 individuals globally, together with 44 in Canada, most of them in Toronto. Henry was on the entrance strains of that outbreak. 

As an affiliate medical officer with Toronto Public Well being, she labored intently with the late Dr. Sheela Basrur, the town’s first chief medical officer of well being, on an epidemiological investigation of the illness and its unfold throughout the town.

WATCH | Henry talks concerning the lingering impression of the SARS outbreak in Toronto

Dr. Henry talks concerning the lingering impression of the outbreak, which included 44 deaths in Canada. 1:04

“What stays with me from SARS was I talked to each single one of many households who had individuals who died from SARS and I knew the impression that the illness had on them,” stated Henry. 

“That actually drove among the the explanation why I have been so captivated with defending individuals’s privateness, about making certain that we do every thing we are able to for well being care staff.”

The ballad of Bonnie Henry

To this point, B.C. has been profitable at flattening the curve compared to central Canada, a indisputable fact that has buoyed Henry’s recognition throughout the province, even inspiring a ballad and a mural in her honour.

Hamish Telford, professor of political science on the College of the Fraser Valley, says that is comprehensible given the non-partisan function she performs. 

Emily Carr College scholar Abi Taylor finishes a portray of Henry on a boarded-up window in Vancouver on March 31. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

“She steps ahead and provides us her experience with out political spin,” he stated. “And it simply so occurs that she has a stunning persona and disposition and an especially reassuring voice.”

Even so, he says, it is essential to do not forget that persons are not infallible.

“We have seen her recommendation evolve over time… We now have to be ready for that — that she is going to presumably make errors.”

For Henry, an outbreak on a worldwide scale comes with the acknowledgment that there’s solely a lot below her management. And whereas there isn’t any timeline in sight for a world with out COVID-19, she says her inspiration has come from the general public. 

“Every single day once I stroll residence and I watch individuals lining as much as the grocery retailer, [I see] most individuals are affected person and so they’re working it via and so they’re working it out. That is what permits me to sleep.”

If in case you have a COVID-19-related story we should always pursue that impacts British Columbians, please e mail us at impact@cbc.ca.    

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