This is the second installment of a three-part series on Dr. John O'Connor, the family physician to first identify higher-than-average cancer rates and rare forms of cancer in communities downstream of the Alberta oilsands.
Part 2: Deformed Fish, Dying Muskrats Cause Doctor To Sound Alarm
When Dr. John O’Connor arrived in Fort Chipewyan in 2000, it took him a little while to get familiar with the population.
The town was a bit larger than his previous post of Fort MacKay, with a population of around 1,000 at that time. Locals had few options when it came to medical care. Their town was 300 kilometres north of Fort McMurray and accessible only by plane in the summer or by ice road for a few of the colder months.
O’Connor recognized it was a close-knit community and yet hard to get a foothold in.
“You had to be trusted to gain their respect, I guess,” he said.
Most doctors hadn’t established a continuous practice up there, O’Connor said, so the community hadn’t received continuous care by the same medical expert for many years.
“What they were looking for was one pair of eyes, one pair of hands. Consistency,” he recounts.
“That was one of the reasons why I was approached to provide service. So that made it easier to get to know people and for them to get to know me.”
O’Connor immediately began poring over patient files, piecing together what a series of seasonal doctors had left behind. Patients there felt there was no continuity between what rotating doctors would say about their symptoms.