Former Manitoulin resident appointed to Praxis Spinal Cord Institute board of directors

Sean Gjos

VANCOUVER—Sean Gjos, who grew up on Manitoulin Island, is one of four new members appointed to the Praxis Spinal Cord Institute (formerly the Rick Hanson Spinal Cord Injury Research Foundation) board of directors.

“I had some casual discussions encounters with Praxis representatives,” said Mr. Gjos, who is the son of Rick and Gail Gjos of Sheguiandah. In early January, Bill Barrable (CEO of Praxis) had reached out to me to explore my interest in being appointed to the board.”

“I did express my interest, but the appointment to the board was not expected,” said Mr. Gjos. “I am quite pleased and honoured to be asked and to be able to contribute to their mission.”

Dr. Ian Rigby, on the Praxis board, told The Expositor, “I have only met Sean virtually a few times. Having said that, I am extremely excited to get to serve on the board with him. Sean embodies so many of the experiences and qualities that we feel will make him a great board member for Praxis. These include an interest and experience in the health of others in his role with Boreal Wellness. Furthermore, Sean has strong business experience working with Triton Pacific Capital Partners that gives him an understanding of the business and commercialization space that Praxis continues to expand into.”

“Finally, Sean is a person with a lived experience of spinal cord injury which allows him to apply his knowledge and experiences through the lens of those with a spinal cord injury,” said Dr. Rigby. “The combination of all these makes him an inspiring member of the community and we are grateful he has decided to join Praxis board of directors.”

Arushi Raina, Praxis director of commercialization, welcomed Mr. Gjos to the board saying, “his experience, volunteering to provide lived experience on our projects, to assist with financial and business development and given his background and current role as an entrepreneur,” will serve him well on the board.

“The appointment of four new members to the Praxis Spinal Cord Institute board of directors is bringing welcome experience in finance, governance, community, and health care to the board,” a Praxis release states. “Health care research leader Sean Gjos, technology finance expert Peter Guo, business leader Jauvonne Kitto, and financial executive Harbir Toor will join the 10 current members of the board.”

“Together they exemplify our unique Praxis model and strengthen our impact, which is based not only on partnership but also engagement with people living with spinal cord injury. At Praxis, our impact is strengthened through unique, consumer-engaged programs that support the advancement of creative ideas. This engagement is essential for setting priorities in research and innovations that reflect the needs of people who have spinal cord injury. This ensures our work is relevant and will have a significant impact on quality of life later on,” said Praxis.

“I am delighted that four new members are joining the Praxis Board of directors this year and we look forward to welcoming them at our next meeting and working together,” said Dr. Rigby. “Our unique Praxis model builds on partnership and collaboration and this is strongly in evidence within our board. Our directors each make significant contributions of their time and skills to the Institute and together show the generosity and professionalism that guides our vision-a world without paralysis after spinal cord injury. From the strength of these and other partnerships, Praxis continues to transform the lives of people with spinal cord injury.”

 “The Praxis board makes a significant contribution to the Institute, and board members ensure that the organization adheres to strict governance and guidelines for non-profits operation in Canada. They help Praxis deliver on the vision of a world without paralysis after spinal cord injury and ensure that translates into improvements in the lives of Canadians with SCI.”

“Praxis Spinal Cord Institute is a valuable network of excellence within the SCI community, both in Canada and globally,” said Mr. Gjos. “I look forward to contributing to Praxis’ continued success and work in this are by joining the board of directors.”

Mr. Gjos is the vice-president with SaNOtize Research and Development. Previously, he founded a mental health clinic and was a partner with a private equity firm, where he helped healthcare service companies navigate the challenges of growth. Sean is also the honorary chairperson for SCORE Fund, a non-profit that assists people paralyzed while participating in sports.

“I am from the Island,” Mr. Gjos. “I was born in Sudbury, but when my father (now a retired Constable with the Ontario Provincial Police OPP), was transferred to the Island we lived in Little Current. I think I was three at the time.”

Mr. Gjos pursued his education on the Island, first graduating from elementary school at Little Current Public School and then attended Manitoulin Secondary School for four years before graduating in grade  13 in Sault Ste. Marie.” He played hockey on the Island, then played junior hockey and was a scholarship undergraduate and hockey player at Brown University and then a graduate student at The Anderson School at the University of California (UCLA).

In March 1999, UCLA, which had won the Pac-8 title and continued into postseason play, and was in their first national championship game against Life University, a game in which Sean, a defenceman, was injured and subsequently paralyzed.

On the SCORE website it was reported “if you were to ask Sean Gjos about his accident, you’d find there’s a lot he could tell you. He could tell you how he ended up on the bad side of a routine body check that sent him flying into the boards. He could tell you how, as he lay helplessly on the ice, he just kept wishing the pain in his back would end. And he could tell you how, as the numbness swept from his toes to his waist, he was very, very scared.”

“I really don’t remember what I was thinking-it was a combination of fear and wanting the pain to go away,” Mr. Gjos told SCORE.

The memories don’t end there, reported SCORE. There was the quiet solemnity of his UCLA teammates. The six-hour surgery attempted to fix his fractured vertebrae. The surprise he felt when the doctors told him his chances of ever walking again were less than five percent. And his immediate determination to beat those odds.

“I felt like I had a challenge,” Mr. Gjos said. “I wanted to prove them wrong, and I wanted to do everything that was in my power to rehabilitate, to get back on my feet.”

His friends and teammates said that with his bleak condition, Sean began handling it with dignity, never feeling sorry for himself and their respect and admiration for him just grew. The school rallied behind him and his friends got together and founded SCORE (or Spinal Cord Opportunities for Rehabilitation Endowment), with $500,000 being raised. This fund continues to help out any UCLA or Brown alumna or students, as well as any hockey players, who are suffering from spinal cord injuries.

“In 1999, we launched SCORE thanks to some very generous individuals and families,” said Mr. Gjos, who is the honorary chairperson. “We have over 100 grantees and hundreds of thousands of dollars have been provided to help support those with spinal cord injuries,” said Mr. Gjos.

After his injury, “it was a process with good days and bad, but an overall trendline towards better days. I received excellent care, physical and mental at the UCLA Medical Centre during the first few months after the accident and was very fortunate to have amazing support from family, friends and the tight-knit UCLA business school community.”

“While it is cliché, I often was taking one day at a time, keeping busy with a resumed career, adaptive sports, spending time with friends. Days became weeks, then months and years and here I am 20 plus years later wondering where the time has gone,” said Mr. Gjos.

After working in finance in Connecticut for four years, Mr. Gjos then went to University of California, in Los Angeles to get his master’s degree in business. “I worked in an investment firm for 12 years, focussing on health care companies,” said Mr. Gjos. “I moved back to Canada in 2010, to Vancouver. In 2017 I opened a mental health clinic (group therapy for any public safety personnel such as police, military veterans, firefighters, paramedics, and nurses). All public safety personnel who, when they wake up in the morning, are all trying to benefit people by making us all safe.”

“I am now working for the SaNOtizer research and development, a pharmaceutical company in Vancouver,” said Mr. Gjos who is 52 years of age, married with two stepsons (both in university).

Mr. Gjos added, “My parents set a great example for me, of giving back to the community with all the activities and groups they participate in within the community.”