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Laurie J. Hendren Opal Fund at Cedars

The Cedars Cancer Foundation extends its most heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Laurie Hendren, Ph.D. Canada Research Chair, FRSC, whose life was abbreviated by cancer.

Laurie inspired us. She wore her two hats—that of scientist and that of patient—with humility. She cared deeply about making the world a better place and sought to use her intellect to break down barriers to knowledge through access. As such, Laurie led or co-led many open source research projects at McGill and with the Research Institute of the MUHC and the Cedars Cancer Centre, Opal was created. We were privileged to have known Laurie and are grateful to have the means to honour her legacy through the Laurie J. Hendren Opal Fund at Cedars.

Please find the compelling letter of sympathy written by Dr. Tarek Hijal, Dr. John Kildea and Dr. Jamil Asselah.

“Dear colleagues and friends,

It is with great sadness that we share with you the news that Laurie Hendren, our dear friend and co-lead on the Opal project, passed away this morning following a brief deterioration in her illness. Laurie was a powerful woman who had great intellect, a profound sense of fairness, and remarkable clarity of mind. She was a professor of computer science at McGill, renowned for her excellence in research and teaching. Her research centered around compilers and computer programming languages. She received numerous awards for her academic achievements and was an elected fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

Recently, she was named the 2019 recipient of the Dahl-Nygaard prize, one of the most prestigious awards in computer science. Her research was her passion and she loved to teach and share her knowledge with her students.

We were introduced to Laurie in 2014 when she first received radiotherapy for breast cancer at the MUHC under Tarek’s care. From the beginning, Laurie wanted to help. Following conversations about the computational needs of radiation oncology, Tarek introduced Laurie to John. The three hit it off and agreed to work together. The almost five years since have been a fun and rewarding adventure in patient involvement in research and care and in the development of the Opal patient portal. Laurie was uncompromising in her insistence that patients should have access to their medical data. She pointed out the numerous benefits this can bring to both patient and clinician. She was instrumental in the development of all aspects of Opal, including its design, the technical details, and advocacy within the MUHC and across the province. Although still in pilot release, Opal is now being used by almost 200 patients at the Cedars Cancer Centre.

Opal has received a number of awards, including a Quebec Prix de cancerologie, an honourable mention from the Washington-based Institute for Patient and Family Centered Care and the Merck Patients’

First award. Later this week, the Opal team will proudly attend the award ceremony of the 2019 Prix d’excellence of the MSSS for which the project has been nominated.

Laurie’s wish was that Opal would be available to all patients in Quebec so that all patients who desire it can access their data and play an informed role in their medical care. The Opal team are working closely with the MUHC and the MSSS to make this a reality.

It was often pointed out that Laurie was not an ordinary patient.

While certainly true in many ways, Laurie would take exception to this as there is no such thing as an ordinary patient–every patient is unique and every patient should have the right to play an informed role in their own care. But Laurie was an extraordinary person. She was also a great friend to all the members of the Opal team and she will be dearly missed.

Laurie is survived by her husband Prakash Panangaden, her daughter Jane Panangaden, mother June Hendren and brother Paul Hendren.

We will share funeral arrangements in due course.

Thank you,
John Kildea, Tarek Hijal, Jamil Asselah”