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University Advancement | November 2017

Brain surgery leads to gift from Canadian Concrete Masonry Producers Association

Graduate students Ryan Deorajh and Nhu Nguyen flank Dr. Victor Yang and Marina de Souza (centre).

Graduate students Ryan Deorajh and Nhu Nguyen flank Dr. Victor Yang and Marina de Souza (centre).


It was late in August last year when Marina de Souza, executive director of the Canadian Concrete Masonry Producers Association (CCMPA), was sent to Sunnybrook Hospital’s emergency ward.

There she would come under the care of neurosurgeon and Ryerson engineering professor, Dr. Victor Yang, who told her she had a meningioma - a typically benign tumor that forms on membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord just inside the skull.

If there was something fortuitous in de Souza’s otherwise unfortunate situation, it was connecting to the care of Dr. Yang. In addition to being a neurosurgeon, Dr. Yang is also a Canada Research Chair in Bioengineering and Biophotonics at Ryerson University. His ability to think as both engineer and surgeon led to him to co-found 7D Surgical, a radiation-free optical imaging technology for surgical navigation that enables surgeons to perform delicate procedures in the repair of spinal injuries and the removal of brain tumors - all with superior accuracy, speed and safety. The company has received multiple grants and investments—including support from the Ryerson Angels Network and FedDev Ontario—and has approval from both Health Canada and the FDA for use in hospitals in Canada and United States.

“He asked me if I would be a part of a clinical trial,” says de Souza, “and I was all for being involved. After all, they wouldn’t have been as advanced as they were to help me if there weren’t patients before me that agreed to take part.”

Dr. Yang and his team removed 95 percent of de Souza’s tumor. Today, much of her life is back to normal.  She works, travels, and is considering ways to get more involved in advocacy work around brain tumors.

With de Souza back at CCMPA and healthy, the association was inspired to rally its membership in support of Ryerson University and Dr. Yang’s research.

Paul Hargest, President of CCMPA and Boehmers, operating under Hargest Block Ltd, says “Having experienced firsthand through our own executive director the successes the team has had, we are delighted to support Ryerson University in their ongoing research to assist in the development of equipment and procedures involved in brain surgery.” 

“The members of CCMPA continually work to add value to our communities by creating disaster resilient, environmentally friendly products,” adds Hargest. “The membership also undertakes to support many organizations annually with financial, in-kind and material contributions to enrich the lives of those less fortunate.”

Having gone through the experience together, de Souza and Yang established a rapport: “We talk about how I appreciated the ‘haircut’ he gave me and the 40 staples that formed a question mark down the left side of my head,” says de Souza. “Joking aside,” she adds, “I know I’ve been fortunate in the quality of my care.”