After 62 years, life-saving MD, patient reunite

Dr. Jack Bailey and Cathy Harding reunite after 62 years. The doctor helped to save Ms. Harding’s life as a 10-week-old baby in Little Current. Photo by Alicia McCutcheon

by Alicia McCutcheon

Dr. Jack Bailey and Cathy Harding reunite after 62 years. The doctor helped to save Ms. Harding’s life as a 10-week-old baby in Little Current. Photo by Alicia McCutcheon

LITTLE CURRENT—Little Current’s Dr. Jack Bailey, now 88-years-old, was whisked back to another time last week, reminded of his practice as a young doctor, new to Manitoulin, and also had the chance encounter to meet a very grateful former patient, one whose life was saved 62 years ago.

Cathy Harding walked into The Expositor office last Monday, a stop on an Ontario vacation that took her to Manitoulin from her home on Vancouver Island. Not just any stop, however. Ms. Harding was on a mission to see the place of her birth, the place she has called home without ever having seen it, for her entire life.

The petite brunette came armed with an Expositor article from its feature section dated Thursday, October 27, 1949 entitled ‘Mercy Flight.’

The story, written by her father, then Expositor staffer Norman Gotro who worked at the paper for approximately a year-and-a-half, told the harrowing tale of Mr. Gotro’s sick child, Baby Catherine he called her, who became afflicted with dysentery at 10-weeks-old.

According to the article, a number of children from across Manitoulin were also suffering from the effects of severe vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration and while the new drug, aeromycin was prescribed by attending physician Dr. Bailey along with other words of care, the baby could not rally and had to be flown by pilot Jack Tustin to Toronto where she was rushed to Sick Kids Hospital.

“Several times en route, my heart was in my mouth as I looked to see the baby’s state,” Mr. Gotro wrote. “On at least three occasions, I could get no murmur from her and on one occasion, she seemed to be dead. Placing my thumb and forefinger against one of her eyes, I pushed back the eyelids and noticed the eyeballs were completely rolled back. The infant seemed in a comatose condition over Georgian Bay and even over Barrie, but as we neared Aurora, she appeared to liven a bit. The baby came out of her apparently unconscious state as Pilot Tustin gently nosed down and landed at Toronto Island Airport at 4:30 pm Toronto (Daylight) time.”

Baby Catherine spent the next three weeks at Sick Kids, needing blood transfusions, intravenous injections and more aeromycin and the father was told Dr. Bailey had done “everything he possibly could have under the circumstances” by hospital staff.

And here she was, 62 years later, a picture of health.

Expositor publisher Rick McCutcheon arranged for a meeting between the patient and doctor the following day.

At first, Ms. Harding seemed a little shy at meeting the man who had helped to save her life all those years ago, making polite conversation with the aging doctor, chatting about the aircraft that might have carried her on her “mercy flight” in 1949, but Dr. Bailey’s charm, wit and infectious laugh soon put her at ease and she warmed to the idea, at one point reaching out to stroke his cheek softly. “That’s so awesome, you’re wonderful,” she smiled. Dr. Bailey giggled in return.

Dr. Bailey told Ms. Harding that dysentery affected mostly babies at that time and while he didn’t remember her case directly, he certainly remembered the outbreak. He recalled going to Whitefish Falls to treat a case and learned that baby’s bottles were not being properly washed between feedings. “They were just rinsing them out in the river, which you could imagine was moderately polluted,” he said. “Can you imagine that? That epidemic was pretty bad and made it difficult to treat.”

Dr. Bailey noted that dysentery would often hit in the fall of the year. “Fly season,” he added.

“In 1949 we didn’t have sewers and the public water system was just being installed (in Little Current),” he recalled. “There was always diarrhea and vomiting in the fall. It tended to be a 24-hour thing, but if it hit a baby, it could be much more serious and potentially life threatening. In Catherine’s case, she’s lucky she survived.”

“Public health was lacking,” he added.

Dr. Bailey noted that after communities had sewer and water systems installed, the symptoms gradually disappeared. “We have clean water now, and people are more educated,” he said of dysentery’s eventual dispersement.

A teacher by trade, Ms. Harding told the doctor that this was her first visit to Manitoulin and that she had since learned all about Haweaters. “Mom and dad always said it was a lovely place to be,” she explained.

“I feel really blessed to be here,” she said, tears starting to fill her eyes. “And I’m so happy to meet you.”

“This Island is so beautiful and the people here are just great,” Ms. Harding continued. “It feels good to be born in such a special place,” her hand touched her heart.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she hugged Dr. Bailey. “I’ve had such a nice life because of you.”

After having some time to let the experience set in, Ms. Harding wrote to this reporter, further elaborating on her time on Manitoulin.

“I have always had the desire to go home to the place of my birth, to say thank you to those responsible for saving my life 62 years ago,” she wrote. Whenever anyone asked me where home was, I always said Little Current, Manitoulin Island. Perhaps this was because we moved around so much during my young life. I was in 13 different schools before I graduated high school. Little Current was the place of my beginnings, a place I always felt connected to even though I was only there a short moment in time—the first year of my life. From the moment my husband and I crossed the swing bridge and stepped foot on Manitoulin soil, I felt connected. I know I belonged there.”

In fact, Ms. Harding’s connection with the doctor goes back even farther, she discovered. Upon returning home from her holiday, a little research showed that Dr. Bailey delivered Ms. Harding into this world on August 10, 1949.

Ms. Harding continues to say that thanks to the work of Dr. Bailey and the doctors at Sick Kids, because of whom she is convinced she got to be the second oldest of nine children, graduated from high school, nursed in both general and psychiatric fields, retains both a Bachelor and Masters in Education, taught for almost 20 years, married “the most wonderful man in the world” and has a son.

“To thank the man responsible, in part, for the amazing life I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy is not an event that comes to everyone, but it did to me,” she wrote.