When a child is critically ill or injured, Ottawa parents know that the doctors and nurses at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario will be there to help.
But there is another side to CHEO that often goes unrecognized. It's one that helps to humanize the hospital in the most profound of ways: the spiritual care it offers to children and families facing life's most difficult moments.
This is where Gerardo Quintanar, CHEO's spiritual adviser, comes in to the picture. "I provide support to families and kids who are confronted with critical illness or trauma," he explains. "What I offer is a spiritual assessment, not of them, but of what they are living through."
Gerardo admits that his profession of choice sees him dealing daily with people, often very young children, who are grappling with painful experiences. But he chooses to look at it another way.
"I am a witness to the immense capacity of human beings to survive in terrible circumstances," he says. "My objective is to help each family live with their tragedy or serious illness, with a sense that they are not alone, to give them the opportunity to have a human experience and not a brutal, animal experience."
Gerardo is particularly committed to helping families focus on the love they have for their sick or dying child, because it is an emotion that helps everyone involved in the child's care, as well as the child. "We cannot have two feelings at once," he notes. "If we have anger and despair, we can't show love."
He also actively promotes an environment which enhances the spiritual well-being of the staff providing care to the traumatized, the ill and the injured. "We all journey together in the suffering, and the staff needs a way to recharge too, so that we can offer the best of ourselves to the family."
Overall, Gerardo is convinced that while CHEO is a place where families and staff face some of life's greatest challenges, it is also a place of deep love and compassion.
Although Gerardo can't fix the medical issues he sees every day, he works tirelessly to help mend souls in distress through his compassion and empathy.
"Every morning when I arrive at CHEO, I know that my work for the day is to help humanize the experience of pain and suffering that families are experiencing," he explains. "I can help to bring some light into the darkness; I can walk with them on the path to finding meaning in the chaos."
Catherine Clark is the host of Beyond Politics on CPAC, airing Sunday nights at 8 p.m.