Dr. Wayne Johnston
“We have established and advanced vascular surgery as a specialty. And I say ‘we’ because absolutely everything I achieved in my career was done in collaboration with other people and other organizations,” says Dr. Wayne Johnston. (Photo: UHN)

Among the typical voice messages left by service providers including his gardener, Dr. Wayne Johnston listened to a very unexpected one recorded by Canada's Governor General's office. The message was short and sweet: "We have good news for you, please call us back."

When Dr. Johnston called back and learned he was receiving one of the countries highest civilian honours, he could not hide his surprise and happiness.

"I remember a nurse was walking by and she stopped to ask if I was okay," says Dr. Johnston. "I smiled and said: 'Yes, I'm definitely okay.'"

Dr. Wayne Johnston, Medical Director of the Vascular Lab at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre (PMCC) and revered forefather of vascular surgery in Canada, is one of the most recent recipients of the Order of Canada, which recognizes outstanding merit of Canadians whose lifelong achievements have had an impact in enriching the lives of others and truly contributing to a better country.

Dr. Johnston has received numerous awards and recognitions during his career, but says nothing compares to the Order of Canada.

"This is an honour that goes beyond the medical community and speaks to one's impact as a Canadian citizen," he says. "It is the ultimate recognition."

In the announcement, the Governor General's office recognized Dr. Johnston for his foundational leadership as a surgeon, researcher and educator in the field of vascular surgery.

While acknowledging his efforts and avoiding any false modesty, Dr. Johnston believes it is important to share this honour with his peers and colleagues.

"We have established and advanced vascular surgery as a specialty," he says. "And I say 'we' because absolutely everything I achieved in my career was done in collaboration with other people and other organizations."

A life of impactful achievements

Dr. Johnston admits this ultimate recognition of receiving the Order of Canada made him feel a little emotional as he looked back at the legacy he leaves behind as well as the long-lasting bonds he has created with colleagues in Canada and around the world.

During his 40-year career, Dr. Johnston has made invaluable contributions as a surgeon, researcher and professor. The list of achievements is so long that it is impossible to include everything in one article.

He established the Canadian Society for Vascular Surgery with Winnipeg vascular surgeon Dr. Allan Downs and others, and was the driving force in approaching the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada to make vascular surgery a subspecialty requiring an advanced level of certification.

He played a key role in the merger of the two major American vascular societies, with histories dating more than seven decades, to become a single unified Society of Vascular Surgery – of which he became President, leading the development of the organization's strategic plan.

As a professor at University of Toronto and international lecturer, Dr. Johnston has helped train numerous surgeons. He was the co-editor of the seventh and eight editions of Rutherford's Vascular Surgery, considered the standard medical reference textbook in the field worldwide. He edited the major vascular surgery journal, The Journal of Vascular Surgery, for seven years.

Dr. Johnston dedicated years of his life to research that not only changed what is known about vascular conditions but actually changed the way doctors around the globe diagnose and treat patients with aneurysms and arterial occlusive disease.

He developed, for example, groundbreaking innovations in the use of ultrasound as a diagnostic tool to assess the location and severity of arterial occlusive disease. Today, millions of patients worldwide benefit from vascular laboratory assessments based on his research in this area.

"Wayne's contributions in basic ultrasound are the reason patients can come to the hospital and have non-invasive tests of their arteries and veins," says Dr. Barry Rubin, Medical Director of the PMCC.

"Wayne has set the standard for what an academic vascular surgeon should aim to be," he adds.

"His body of work over the past four decades has raised the international profile and reputation of Canadian vascular surgery and left an indelible legacy on all aspects of the profession."

When asked for words of advice he can give to the new generation of vascular surgeons, Dr. Johnston has three main messages – in order to have an impact, work hard, be dedicated to doing something well, and, above all, maintain a high ethical standard.​

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