Dr. Donald Low, public face of Toronto SARS crisis, dies
Infectious disease specialist, key figure in city's response to 2003 SARS outbreak, had brain tumour
Dr. Donald Low, a leading Canadian infectious disease expert who rose to prominence while helping Toronto cope with the SARS crisis that killed hundreds worldwide a decade ago, has died at age 68 after being diagnosed with a brain tumour.
Low was the microbiologist in chief at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital and a professor at the University of Toronto.
It's a big loss to all of us in microbiology.- Allison McGeer, Mount Sinai Hospital
After the 2003 breakout of severe acute respiratory syndrome in Toronto, Low oversaw regular updates to the public about the syndrome, which eventually killed 44 people in Canada and nearly 800 worldwide.
Dr. Allison McGeer, director of infectious disease control at Mount Sinai hospital, worked with Low and knew him for 25 years.
In an interview on CBC Radio's Metro Morning shortly after news of his death broke, McGeer said Low provided a voice of calm to a city gripped by fear during the SARS outbreak.
"He was the face and a good piece of the brains behind our response to SARS," McGeer told host Matt Galloway. "What many of us in Toronto don't recognize is the loss he leaves behind to microbiology and infectious diseases in Canada, and to all of his research work in emerging diseases around the world. It's a big loss to all of us in microbiology.
"With Don, no problem is ever too large," said McGeer. "You simply lay it out, you put it in its pieces, you figure out how to deal with it and you move on. That may be his biggest legacy."
Dr. Michael Gardam, from the University Health Network, told CBC News that Low's commitment to keeping the public informed during the outbreak was a unique trait.
"The thought you would have a world renowned expert really seeing it as one of his major jobs … to go directly to the public and actually talk about what's going on … I can't tell you how unusual that is," he said.
Low died Wednesday evening after battling a brain tumour. "As a husband and a father — nobody better," his wife, Maureen Taylor, told CBC News. "His kids adore him and he was everything to me."
'Best boss you could imagine'
McGeer credits Low for his role in not only studying infectious diseases, but also in teaching other doctors in the field.
"He created the generation of people that we now count on to study antimicrobial resistance and emerging infectious diseases," she said.
"One of the standing jokes in microbiology at Mount Sinai was that nobody ever leaves. There was no temptation. He was the best boss you could imagine."
According to Mount Sinai's website, Low was a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. He completed his undergraduate training and postgraduate training in medicine and infectious diseases at the University of Manitoba and his training in medical microbiology at the University of Toronto.
Low's primary research interests were in the study of the epidemiology and the mechanisms of antimicrobial resistance in community and hospital pathogens.
Low published more than 385 papers in peer-reviewed journals and was a reviewer for several organizations including the Medical Research Council, Health Canada, New England Journal of Medicine, Journal of American Medical Association, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, and had been cited some 3600 times.