5 heroes of health in 2012

Double-lung transplant recipient Hélène Campbell of Ottawa used her own personal journey to overcome medical challenges to promote the importance of organ donations, making her one of the top five heroes of health in 2012.

Organ donation advocacy, mental health commission's work among top health stories

Ottawa double lung transplant recipient Hélène Campbell's story was credited with a spike in organ donation registrations in 2012. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Double-lung transplant recipient Hélène Campbell of Ottawa used her own personal journey to overcome medical challenges to promote the importance of organ donations, making her one of the top five leaders in health in 2012.

1. Organ recipient raises donation awareness

Campbell, 21, used social media savvy to promote organ donation. Her efforts led to her appearance on the U.S. television program The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and gained the attention of Canadian popstar Justin Bieber on Twitter.

Campbell was diagnosed a year ago with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, an incurable and degenerative lung disease. She had transplant surgery at Toronto General Hospital in April.

Ontario's Trillium Gift of Life credited Campbell for a spike in organ donation registrations.

2) Toronto doctor's 'magic pill' exercise push

A Toronto doctor's "magic pill" for health went viral in early 2012.

A video by Dr. Mike Evans used a simple and light-hearted approach to examine, "What is the single best thing we can do for our health?"

Evans reviewed the medical literature and concluded the answer is getting at least 30 minutes daily of exercise, mostly walking.

He said completing at least a half-hour of exercise every day amounts to a magic pill for arthritis, depression, anxiety, obesity and overall quality of life.

3) NYC mayor's battle against large sodas

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's campaign against large sodas and other sugary drinks acted on public health research on fighting obesity.

The ban, effective in March 2013, imposes a 16-ounce (473-millilitre) limit on the size of sweetened drinks sold at restaurants, movie theaters, sports venues and street carts.

Bloomberg's rationale is that concentrated sugar, in huge, regular doses, can be considered a threat to public health.

In December, an editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal said Canadian politicians should be inspired by Bloomberg's leadership to act.

4) Canadian group fights mental health stigma

The Mental Health Commission of Canada raised awareness of the stigma surrounding mental illnesses with its final report in May that coincided with similar efforts by hospitals and advocacy groups.

The commission's 100 priorities and recommendations were grouped into strategic areas that covered mental health prevention and promotion, access to services, upholding the rights of people with mental illness and fostering their recovery, addressing the needs of specific populations such as seniors and First Nations and remote communities, and improving collaboration among governments and stakeholders.

In October, an Ontario report that was nationally representative suggested that the burden of mental illness and addictions is more than 1.5 times that of all cancers.

5) Gabrielle Giffords and her recovery 

Former Arizona representative Gabrielle Giffords's story of recovery from a bullet wound to the head during a mass shooting near Tucson in January 2011 illustrated the importance of a trajectory of the bullet and intensive music and speech therapy.

When Giffords resigned her congressional seat in January 2012, she said she wanted to concentrate on her recovery. 

After months of surgeries and therapy, Giffords led the Pledge of Allegiance in September at the Democratic National Convention.

Connie Tomaino, a music therapist in New York who collaborates with Dr. Oliver Sacks on patients with stroke and Parkinson's disease, explains why Giffords was able to recite the pledge in an interview with CBC News.