Untitled Page

Visiting China in the Tradition of Norman Bethune

Al Lossing
Al Lossing

Lee Errett, the President of the Bethune Foundation, asked Al Lossing to travel to China to update their vascular surgeons. Al emphasized endovascular techniques and observed and assisted surgeons in the operating room. “The surgeons are thirsty for knowledge. Some are very advanced and many are working with much less advanced techniques”. Approximately 200 people attended each lecture. All the lectures were translated from English to Chinese. David Dai, who organized the trip was very helpful and was the translator throughout the entire visit. As the trip progressed, Al discovered that the interest in Telemedicine and the possible connection with Canada became the highlight of the lectures. Al is the Telemedicine Director at St. Michael’s Hospital. All of the Chinese participants became very interested in establishing a relationship with the University of Toronto via Telemedicine, including not only the surgeons, but ministers of health, CEOs, nurses, and physiotherapists.

His daughters Katherine (14), Jacqueline (16), and Danielle (18) travelled with him and were treated as celebrities. People enjoyed taking pictures of them - they were a fascinating contrast to the one child policy. The Lossing girls were escorted by residents and scientists during the day, while Al gave his lectures. They saw people sweeping the streets with handmade brooms and the extremes of poverty. They travelled every 2 to 3 days, dined with the surgeons, administrators, CEOs and ministers. “The girls’ experience was wonderful. They came to appreciate Canada’s culture, healthcare, and schools in ways that they could never otherwise have known. They now communicate with friends and nursing students from China. The girls gave a talk called ‘A Day in the Life of a Canadian Teenager’ which was much appreciated. They were there for three weeks, flying first to Beijing and travelling throughout Central and Southern China and returning to Beijing.”

“I visited many operating rooms. The instruments were primitive - Metzenbaum scissors, snaps, thumb forceps and scalpels were all that was needed or used. There was no electrocautery. In most hospitals, the corridors and floors were empty of equipment, unlike Canadian hospitals. There was very little aneurysmal surgery. The volume of peripheral vascular disease was staggering including complications of diabetes mellitus.”

group photo

Al, Danielle, Jacqueline and Katherine Lossing

In Nanning, they were introduced to a fascinating surgeon (Dr. Tsui) at a 4,000 bed hospital. Each day approximately 3000 patients are seen in out-patient clinics. Dr. Tsui is a hepatobiliary surgeon, who, herself sees about 70 patients in 2 hours. She told amazing stories of being raised during the cultural revolution. Her mother was a pediatrician and her father was in the military.

Al met a 90 year old gentleman who had worked with Norman Bethune in North East China, and now oversees and cares for a local temple. “Everyone in China over 30 knows the story of Norman Bethune. Younger people who grew up in the post-Mao era are not particularily informed about Bethune, who was a medical hero and friend of Mao. The hospitals and medical schools are very interested in videoconferencing with the University of Toronto in the same way the Mississauga Campus videoconferences with the main campus.

“The most memorable experiences were seeing the Great Wall of China and working with Chinese surgeons through a translator while performing complex operations. Words were not exchanged because of the language barrier, but the communication through body language was flawless.”


Skip Navigation Links