BMO charity golf tournament continues to follow the money

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OAKVILLE, ONT. – Despite some great weather, good golf and a course in tip-top shape, there is no doubt a black-and-white video of a tiny beating heart stole the show at BMO Automotive Finance’s charity golf tournament.

The footage, shared by Dr. Dafna Sussman, showed a baby in the third trimester still tucked inside his mother’s womb. The in-utero image was taken at Sick Kids Hospital and made possible thanks to previous donations from this annual event.

“We are one of only two facilities in the world that have this type of imaging capacity,” explained Dr. Greg Wells. “This is amazing stuff.”

BMO’s Automotive Finance tournament is famous for following the money. Funds raised are given directly to Wells to help finance the Exercise Medicine Research Program at Sick Kids.

The caveat instituted by Ray O’Kane, BMO’s managing director of national retail dealer finance, is that Wells has to return the following year and explain to the crowd how he spent the money.

For the ninth installment, held Friday at Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ont., he spoke about how money raised in 2014 helped staff the research lab and grow the team.

His program uses exercise to prevent, diagnose and treat chronic illness in children. His work has covered everything from childhood cancers to cystic fibrosis.

This year’s area involved imaging that was also possible through a BMO contribution. Several years ago, he purchased a special coil with the tournament donation that made an MRI machine at Sick Kids more powerful and capable of taking more accurate images.

Sussman showed amazing videos of babies their hearts beating inside their mothers. She said the imaging capabilities lets them diagnose problems accurately and earlier than ever before.

“The earlier we can diagnose this, the earlier we can fix them and the higher the chance these babies will live a normal life,” she said. “We are constantly trying to push the boundaries of what is doable… We can diagnose early, but can we fix these issues before they even occur?”

She said her next study would relate to exercise during pregnancy with the idea of determining if certain activities can naturally help normal heart development in babies.

“We can use imaging to see how hearts respond to different activities during pregnancy and figure out what activities cause the heart to develop normally,” she said, adding that the MRI technology will allow for the additional components of determining blood flow and oxygen flow.

“And we can conduct this exercise thanks to your donations.”

O’Kane said he could not be prouder of the work his tournament helps. He noted in his 2014 speech that money raised through the event combined with creative grant maneuvering and matching funds secured by Wells have pushed the total to over $1 million spent on research. This year, he said that tally has only grown.

The 2015 tournament raised $39,845. Helping hit that total was a Manheim auctioneer who sold donated prizes including a Marshall Amp fridge, a Muskoka getaway, a signed Gordie Howe jersey and a box for an upcoming Toronto Maple Leaf home game that went for $13,500.

“We are doing unique and novel things. The ability to image children’s hearts before they are even born with tremendous accuracy has never been done before,” Wells said. “You let us take risks and build new things and do things very quickly in ways that would otherwise not be possible, so thank you so much.”

For more information about Dr. Wells’ efforts, visit www.drgregwells.com