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How Hope, Grit, and a Hospital Network Saved Maverix Private Capital Founder John Ruffolo

 

In September of 2020, John Ruffolo, a leading figure in Canadian venture capital, was struck from behind by a tractor trailer going 80 km/hr while out on his bicycle. The impact shattered his pelvis in six places, and he lost 50 percent of his blood; the doctor expected him to be dead within 48 hours.

Following is a podcast conversation between BMO Capital Markets Chief Executive Dan Barclay and John Ruffolo, founder and Managing Director of Maverix Private Equity, to talk about John’s personal journey of recovery from his devastating accident, on the importance of support from his family and friends and the professionals and services of University Health Network (UHN)’s Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, and why philanthropy is key to funding innovation and research at UHN.

In this Episode:

  • How an accident with a tractor-trailer brought John to death’s door

  • On the role of hope and mentality in recovery from a spinal cord injury

  • On rehabilitation in the hands of the UHN’s Toronto Rehabilitation Institute

  • Where there are opportunities for innovation in healthcare and rehabilitation

  • How to generate more capital to support rehabilitation and acute care in the hospital system

  • On the power of philanthropy to achieve results in healthcare


Sustainability Leaders podcast is live on all major channels including AppleGoogle and Spotify

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Michael Torrance:      

Welcome to Sustainability Leaders. I'm Michael Torrance, chief sustainability officer with BMO financial group. On this show, we will talk with leading sustainability practitioners from the corporate, investor, academic, and NGO communities. To explore how this rapidly evolving field of sustainability is impacting global investment business practices, and our world.

Speaker 3:      

The views expressed here are those of the participants and not those of Bank of Montreal it's affiliates or subsidiaries.

Michael Torrance:     

In this special episode of Sustainability Leaders, BMO Capital Markets CEO Dan Barclay interviews Canadian venture capitalist John Ruffolo, founder and Managing Director of Maverix Private Equity about his remarkable recovery from an accident that left him unable to walk. John and Dan discuss the importance of sustainable access to healthcare, why philanthropy is key to funding innovation and research and why he owes his recovery to the support of family and friends and the professionals and services of University Health Network (UHN)’s Toronto Rehabilitation Institute.

Dan Barclay:  

Welcome to a special podcast supporting Toronto rehab at University Health Network in Toronto, a world leader in helping patients recover and overcome the effects of injury, illness, and aging. Joining me today is John Ruffolo. John is a man of strength and fortitude in the financial industry, and may be known to many of our listeners as the founder of OMERS ventures, which under his leadership invested in over 40 disruptive technology companies across North America. Today he's the founder and Managing Partner of Maverick's Private Equity, a firm focused on technology enabled growth and disruption, investment strategies launched just over a year ago. It's great to have you here, John. And although you and I could have a robust conversation about capital markets and [inaudible 00:00:44] innovation, I think there's a really interesting story on how Mavericks came to be. And perhaps you could share your personal story of recovery and rehab.

John Ruffolo: 

Sounds good, Dan. So Dan, just for the benefit of the listeners, I will just kind of refresh a little bit on what had happened and a little story of the recovery. So approximately 18 months ago in September of 2020, while I was doing my regular COVID cycling on my own, I was run over from behind by a tractor trailer while cycling. And I suffered some pretty catastrophic injuries, including but not limited to my T12 vertebrae was basically pulverized into dust. And following the impact of the hit by the vehicle at about 80 kilometers an hour, the landing on the pavement about 20 or 30 feet away gave me another impact and broke many bones on the right side of my body. But in particular, all of my ribs in multiple places damaged most of my organs, and shattered my pelvis in six pieces.

And most critically, I was bleeding internally to the point where I lost about 50% of my blood. So in the words of the doctor who had presided over in emergency when a friend of mine had asked, the response in terms of my prognosis at the time was I will pass away in the first 48 hours. And he suggested that I had about a million to one chance of getting through it. And I did. But about six days later, I really woke up to the prospect of being told that I would never walk again. And this is where really the recovery process started for me. It included approximately two months in hospital, including at Toronto Western, where my neurosurgeon, who still takes care of me today, Dr. Michael Fehlings, took care of actually a decompression of my spinal cord. This was following my original surgery that was done at Sunnybrook where I was rushed there from a trauma perspective. And then after the two months of my hospital stay, I commenced a rehab recovery at Toronto Rehab at Lindhurst for approximately another two months. So in total I stayed in hospital for a four month period of time.

Dan Barclay:  

Wow. And John, I hope it's not too sensitive a question, but take me through a little bit of the mental process you went through. Obviously you came to a place where your grit and determination came to the service to push through, but as you went through that dynamic working with your neurosurgeon, working with yourself, I'm sure your family, take us through some of those thoughts about where you were at and how you had perspective.

John Ruffolo: 

Yeah. This is the difficult aspect of it. I would say that 90% of your recovery is actually mental with the remaining 10%, the physical aspects of it. It's the physical one that we really don't have any control over really. And especially with the type of injury that I've had, no one really knows what the prognosis might be, especially if it's a spinal cord injury like I had. So the only thing that's really within your control is the mental aspect and how you're going to react to it. Of course it was shocking. It was sad, but really you have to make a decision and there's really two doors. And what I discovered there is the easier door to walk through, which is the 90% door, and it's not a good door.

It's one that can very quickly bring you to depression, if not ultimate suicide. And it really focuses your mind on what you've lost. And right next to that door is the other door that focuses in on what you currently have and tries to focus your mind on trying to improve your situation. And I would say that those doors are right next to each other, and it is very easy to slip into that wrong door. And the moment I was told that I would never walk again my initial response, although I didn't say it in front of the doctor who was kind enough to do everything they could for me, but once the doctor had left, I basically said honestly, F you. No one is telling me that I'm not going walk again. And I really immediately set my mind to I'm going to get better. And to this day, that same mindset still is with me 18 months later as I continue to do physio anywhere from 20 to 30 hours a week every single week.

Dan Barclay:

Wow. I've always known you to have mental fortitude and that's an extraordinary story. Did you ever feel like you were going to go back to that other door, John, or does it really, from the day you decided you just had that vision, that you will get better or better than you were at the moment?

John Ruffolo: 

You do have moments and I'll tell you that there was a couple of times that I remember in hospital, that you have those moments. And it's really built around hope. There were a couple of times when I was in hospital that hope was taken away from me. And when you don't have hope, that's when I believe you go through the wrong door. And I do believe that having hope that you will get better all the time for me now it's measured in micro benefits at this point, but I still have that hope. And any time that you get those negative thoughts in your mind, what I do, I do think about my family. And I do think about how my family would be if I weren't around and it kind of quickly sets you loose and it gets you back into the right place.

But making sure that anyone who goes through such a traumatic accident needs to be surrounded by folks who are positive, who reinforce the hope and are there along for the ride. And one thing for me, which was a little interesting was aside from the great support from my wife and children and immediate family I am part of a cycling team called [inaudible 00:26:47]. And when I was hit, it was like all of my team members were hit and they all rallied around me to help me get that hope. So just like it takes a village to raise a child, it does take a village to help someone recover with such a catastrophic accident.

Dan Barclay:

There's so much insight in there to unpack John. We're on the podcast to talk about Toronto Rehab and how they assisted you as you came out of hospital and moved into the rehabilitation process. And I don't mean to minimize that transition alone, which I suspect was powerful. Take us a little bit through the rehab journey and where you got help, how you got quality help. I'm sure you had some setbacks, I'm sure you had some great movements forward, but take us through that and your experience with Toronto Rehab.

 

John Ruffolo: 

Sure. Yeah. So when I entered Toronto Rehab, my body was still very broken and I was quite brittle. I still wasn't even in a wheelchair really much other than being moved around in harnesses because it was just very difficult for me to transfer myself from say a bed into a wheelchair. And you're still trying to understand what you can and cannot do. The people at Toronto Rehab were quite remarkable. I'd say there were two groups of people where really helped me on my journey. The first group were the remarkable nurses in particular at Toronto Rehab, who really understood what I was going through and were really trying to help me become independent and doing very, very little things. But I didn't realize at the time, the things that they were doing were all designed for me to get back to at least my new normal, and because they've seen this so much, and spinal cord injuries are extremely specialized injuries that the broader market or the broader hospital industry really doesn't appreciate all of the issues that are associated with spinal cord injuries, but yet these nurses did.

And I found it quite remarkable. That was kind of number one. And then number two, it was at Toronto Rehab where I commenced my physio journey. And again, I was quite still brittle in recovering, but the first things that they started to do was getting me on my journey on how to start moving and starting to transfer from a bed into the wheelchair, starting to get me to stand up. All the things that I thought were either too painful or impossible to do were really getting me to that beginning of that recovery. And furthermore, some of the things that I thought was very interesting is that at Toronto Rehab is a lot of research and development of ideas, technologies that can help spinal cord victims. And it's led by a remarkable doctor there, Kathy Cravens. And with her showing me the art of the possible and given my technology background, also seeing what these technologies might do for me perhaps today, or sometime in the future, once again gave me hope.

Dan Barclay:

So, John, I suspect with your innovation background, your deep love of research, obviously you're familiar with the KITE research group at UHN, which is really focused on innovation and rehab, new tools, technology treatments. How did that come to life for you? I presume that there were things that they tried to innovate with you and try new things, and I'm sure there were things they tried that didn't work. And then they tried new things that did work, help us through that journey a little bit around the innovation and their ability to create custom response for you.

 

John Ruffolo:

So there was really two pieces to this. So there was the rehab piece and it was really Toronto Rehab that really helped me understand what were all the available technologies that were going to support me today and into the future and introduced me to this world of rehab type equipment that I just never heard of before. And so making that transition was made very, very easy by them. Once I left rehab and then continued my journey and trying to look at technologies that could help me potentially post rehab, this is where UHN has been very valuable to me. In particular, Toronto Western, and looking at some of their technologies trying to help my life become easier. And I would say the ultimate technologies that they've introduced me to is the latest stem cells and trying to understand where those type technologies might be and how they might apply to me, perhaps not today, but sometime in the future.

And so I do get a lot of my latest information from them directly. And one of the big things that I do appreciate greatly is despite the fact that Toronto Western was intended to really focus in on my acute care, I feel like I am a continuing patient. I was literally just there today this morning. And again, one of the comments that I do hear from other spinal cord victims is once you complete your acute care, you're basically gone. Your relationship with the hospital is gone. And 18 months later, mine is still alive and well.

Dan Barclay:  

Yeah, I think that, to me John is the story of rehab and the story of the University Health Network coming together to look at that. It's a combination I'm sure of your own advocacy of the care you're receiving and the way that they reorganize themselves in terms of making sure they put the patient at the center as opposed to the acute care at the center. And I think that's a win. My understanding is you had a major milestone recently that you celebrate. I'm not going to preempt that, but I will leave it for you to communicate that major milestone.

John Ruffolo: 

Oh, well, I'm not exactly sure which milestone you're referring to, but if you're referring to-

Dan Barclay:   [inaudible]

John Ruffolo: 

[inaudible] milestone? Yes, well I've had a few and it continues because the goal posts continue to move. So inexplicably, even though I cannot walk, although I do walk in a walker today, I can walk I'd say about a hundred feet or so in a walker. And I'm currently practicing with two walking poles. And I hope at some point in near future, I'll finally be able to get out of my wheelchair and walk with the support of the two walking poles, but inexplicably, my cycling didn't stop. And my spinal cord somehow remembered all of the cycling that I had done. And I do cycle on my Peloton indoors, and I have a recumbent bike that I use outdoors. I have ridden out outside of the City of Toronto, more so in my place up north in the Blue Mountain Collingwood area.

And I will get on my bike onto the trails and I've ridden 25 kilometers back and forth from between my place and a small town nearby to go back to my local coffee shop. On my Peloton I try to ride it two or three times a week. And I have cracked the 20 kilometers per hour mark both at a 30 minute and a 60 minute length. And I didn't think that was possible. And now I am gunning to get up to 25 kilometers per hour peddling. And I certainly won't be back at the levels I was at before, but I'm sort of approaching the middle of the pack of riders. Right now I'm probably about in the 85th percentile of riders on Peloton and five more kilometers per hour, and I should get into that 50th percentile. So I didn't imagine I'd get there. So if that's what you're referring to, yes, I have hit that. But to me it's only a temporary marker. It's just one path on the way for me to get to where I ultimately want to be.

Dan Barclay:  

Well, that is the story, John, I was trying to tease out of you, which is around the grit and determination and being told early on that it would never happen. And I think you used an F with an asterisk to say that is not how you saw your future and your grit and determination took you there. Let's transition just briefly. Obviously the type of care you received is not free. You have been a very strong supporter and financier of innovation company Disruptive Outcomes, but you also are a strong supporter of philanthropy. Anything change through this process for you as you think about philanthropy and support for the hospital systems around us?

John Ruffolo: 

Well, I've always been a big supporter of the hospital systems and really in two ways, and now I've refined it a little bit. Historically, and very much through our [inaudible 00:22:45] cycling group, fundraising for hospitals is a very big part of what we've done historically and what we've continued to do. And I'm a big believer in allocating my personal philanthropic dollars to hospitals, particularly in the GTA. But also historically, I've spent a lot of time with the hospitals around their innovation strategy and very specifically the commercialization of the intellectual property that they've been creating in the hospitals so that it can actually A, be used by the general public and B, it could generate dollars back to the hospital system. What I've discovered post my injury is my philanthropic dollars are even becoming more focused around rehab.

The acute care that is provided in the hospitals. One of the things that I do benefit from is I do get very good private care, but it's very, very expensive. And I'm fine from that perspective, but a lot of folks don't have access to the private care. And so it is important that we do devote the public dollars to these philanthropic endeavors. The one thing that actually has changed for me is in my private angel investing I am an investor in many technology companies, but I have been investing in technologies focused around disabilities and folks like me so that we could get these technologies out to the greater masses.

Dan Barclay:  

Yeah, I think that's a great philosophy. I think as you know, John, we're supporting the ride for rally at BMO and have for a number of years, cumulatively donated $11 million to the rehab hospital over years. And I personally got a chance to ride the 100k. Unlike you, I'm not breaking down records these days, but I am focused on my own personal health and how to do that. We're proud supporters of this, the rally, we're proud supporters of the hospital. They're doing great work. And the philosophy we have is this form of care, which is ongoing. And I think hospitals are very good at acute care in a general word. But you think about the impact, whether it's on the mental health side, whether it's on the rehab side, there's lots of places where our healthcare system is not necessarily focused where it should be.

I'm just outstandingly proud to hear of the treatment that you got. It's a great job in terms of rehabilitation access you got, and the way we got to your grit and determination are outstanding. I very much appreciate you spending your personal time telling your story so that we can help the hospital deliver even more and better care as they go forward. So, John, let me say thank you on behalf of everyone listening for you on that story. Let me offer my personal congratulations on how far you've come. And I look forward to hearing the stories through your grit and determination about how far you're going to go. So, thank you.

John Ruffolo:  Thank you very much, Dan. I really appreciate it.

Michael Torrance:      

Thanks for listening to Sustainability Leaders. This podcast is presented by BMO Financial Group. To access all the resources we discussed in today's episode, and to see our other podcasts, visit us at bmo.com/sustainabilityleaders. You can listen and subscribe free to our show on Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast provider, and we'll greatly appreciate a rating and review and any feedback that you might have. Our show and resources are produced with support from BMO's marketing team and Puddle Creative. Until next time, I'm Michael Torrance. Have a great week.

Speaker 3:      

The views expressed here are those of the participants and not those of Bank of Montreal, its affiliates, or subsidiaries. This is not intended to serve as a complete analysis of every material fact regarding any company, industry, strategy, or security. This presentation may contain forward-looking statements. Investors are cautioned not the place undue reliance on such statements as actual results could vary. This presentation is for general information purposes only and does not constitute investment, legal, or tax advice and is not intended as an endorsement of any specific investment product or service. Individual investors should consult with an investment, tax, and/or legal professional about their personal situation. Past performance is not indicative of future results.

Dan Barclay Chief Executive Officer, BMO Capital Markets

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