Healthy Living in the North

Helping Patients Achieve Surgical Success

A side angle shot of a woman in a green sweater sitting at a desk in front of a computer screen that says "Surgical Patient Optimization Collaborative."

Nicole Dron, Surgical Optimization Nurse.

Some health care professionals compare having a surgery with running a marathon; would you run a marathon without any training?

Running a marathon can be stressful – even traumatic – for your body, and so can major surgery. But by preparing your body for those events, you can help make sure they’re successful.

Some patients already know that preparing for surgery helps ensure success:

  • “They said I would be staying in the hospital about four days and returning to work six weeks later after the surgery. I stayed in the hospital three weeks and returned to work six months later because I developed complications. Much of my everyday life was put on hold. If I had known that getting healthier before the surgery could have helped me to avoid this, I would have done something about it.” (patient report)
  • “They were worried about a couple of things in my health condition right before surgery, so they had to cancel at the last possible minute. I wish there was a way to catch those worrisome things much sooner, so that I didn’t have to wait months again for a much-needed surgery.” (patient report)

Doctors and other health care professionals have long recognized that a patient who’s fit for surgery is more likely to have a good surgical result. This means minimal, if any, complications in the short or long term, a short hospital stay, no readmissions to hospital, and a smooth transition back to everyday life.

Four sites in Northern Health and 13 other hospitals in BC are taking part in an exciting pre-surgical optimization project to help patients become as healthy as possible before major surgery.

The project is the Surgical Patient Optimization Collaborative (SPOC), and it’s a priority of the BC Ministry of Health. The organization Doctors of BC, in partnership with BC health authorities, is leading this project.

The four Northern Health sites are Dawson Creek and District Hospital, the University Hospital of Northern British Columbia (UHNBC) in Prince George, Prince Rupert Regional Hospital, and Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace.

Working from evidence-based studies, project leaders have established 13 areas of focus:

  • Diabetes management
  • Heart health
  • Nutrition
  • Mental health
  • Anemia management
  • Exercise
  • Preventing blood clots
  • Frailty
  • Pain management
  • Stopping smoking
  • Alcohol and drug use
  • Social supports
  • Sleep disorders

Each site will focus on two to five components. For example, UHNBC will start preparing patients who are scheduled for urologic and gynecologic surgeries by focusing on diabetes management, frailty, social supports, and smoking cessation.

Other sites have chosen other areas of focus. What all sites have in common, however, is the goal of helping patients succeed in their surgical journey.

Pre-surgical optimization nurses will be reaching out to doctors and primary health care teams that have patients booked for major surgery at any of the four NH sites. These nurses will work with doctors and interprofessional teams to ensure patients are prepared for their surgery.

Nicole Dron

About Nicole Dron

Nicole is a registered nurse with the pre-surgical optimization collaborative in Prince George. She is specifically passionate about aspects that focus on health promotion and prevention, and system improvement in rural, acute, and community nursing. Nicole is hoping to use her professional interests towards supporting the Prince George community to become more healthy and active. Nicole raises her three kids with her spouse, and enjoys exploring local and surrounding communities, reading, and various sports.

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The Spirit of Healthy Kids regional challenge starts December 2

A man in a suit, a man in a tie, a woman in a suit, and a giant teddy bear mascot line up for a photo op.

L-R: Andy Beesley, Vice President, Business, PG Cougars; Andrew Steele, Coordinator, Community Funding Programs, Northern Health; Judy Neiser, CEO of Spirit of the North Healthcare Foundation; and Spirit of the North Healthcare Foundation mascot.

Last month, we announced the launch of the Spirit of Healthy Kids Regional Program – a partnership between the Prince George Cougars, the Spirit of the North Healthcare Foundation, and Northern Health, aimed at improving the health of our Northern students.

The PG Cougars hockey players are positive role models who will soon challenge kids to read, exercise, be kind, and choose healthy choices every day.

We are very excited to announce the six schools selected to participate in this challenge:

  • Harwin Elementary in Prince George
  • WL McLeod Elementary in Vanderhoof
  • Valemount Elementary in Valemount
  • Don Titus Montessori Elementary in Chetwynd
  • Margaret Ma Murray Community School in Fort St. John
  • Uplands Elementary School in Terrace

At the end of the challenge, the school with the highest level of participation will receive a $5,000 grant from the Spirit of Healthy Kids program to complete a project in their school that will help students make the best possible choices every day. The other competing schools will each receive a $1,000 grant.

All kids can still take part in the challenge, even if their school was not selected. This gives other schools a chance to enter a random draw for a $500 grant.

Students will view a video that has health, wellness, and philanthropic messages from the PG Cougars, and then record their healthy activities in tracking sheets for two weeks.

While this funding is important, the real success is getting kids to become more active, kind, and as healthy as they can be. It’s essential for kids to learn healthy behaviors that will help them grow into healthy adults; after all, we know that healthy students are better learners. By supporting schools to encourage these healthy habits in their students, the Prince George Cougars, the Spirit of the North Healthcare Foundation, and Northern Health aim to build a happier and healthier Northern BC for years, and generations, to come.

The challenge runs for two weeks from December 2 to 13, 2019. In order for additional schools to participate, contact: spiritofhealthykids@northernhealth.ca.

More information:

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Northern Table: World Food Day – Household food insecurity is not about food

A graphic for World Food Day is displayed.

World Food Day is October 16, 2019. Check out #rethinkgiving online to get involved.

October 16 is World Food Day – a day to raise awareness about food insecurity and poverty. With 1 in 6 Northern BC households struggling to put food on the table, the issues of poverty and food insecurity run deep in our region, but progress is being made. This year, BC came out with its first ever Poverty Reduction Strategy, which lays out a plan to reduce poverty and improve health in BC communities.

What is household food insecurity?

Household food insecurity is the inability to afford food due to a lack of income. The root cause of household food insecurity is not the price of food – it’s poverty. People are food insecure because they can’t afford to eat.

Faced with challenges like the high cost of rent and child care, individuals and families earning low wages struggle to buy healthy food after meeting other basic needs. The fact is, healthy eating is unaffordable for families on a fixed income, who often have to spend half of their total income on food. With high housing prices and other bills, families are forced to choose between keeping a roof over their heads and buying food. However, food insecurity is not just an issue for those on a fixed income: 65% of people who are food insecure are in the workforce, making low wages that simply aren’t enough.

How does household food insecurity impact our communities?

Household food insecurity deeply impacts health. Adults who are food insecure have higher rates of chronic health issues such as heart disease and diabetes, and are more likely to experience depression, distress, and social isolation. Children who live in households that struggle to buy food have poorer general health, academic outcomes, and social skills than their peers. These health impacts can cause a circular pattern; poorer health can make it harder to afford the basic needs that support health in the first place. To improve the health of our communities, we need to take action.

So, what can be done?

Access to food is a complex issue. As Nick Saul writes, the solution to hunger is not just food:

“How we frame a problem always determines the kind of solution we get. If we say hunger is due to a lack of food, the obvious answer is: Get those people something to eat…but if we ask what’s really at the root of hunger, we discover the answer is more complex. That’s because the root of hunger is poverty… we’re not going to solve such persistent problems [as hunger] with donations of canned peas and corn – no matter how well-meaning. The solution lies elsewhere” – Nick Saul, Community Food Centres Canada

Food charity (such as food banks and food hampers), and community gardens have become the default solutions to household food insecurity. While these initiatives aim to achieve very important goals, like emergency food relief, improved food skills, a more sustainable food system, and social connection, these programs do not reduce household food insecurity because they can’t deal with the root cause of the issue, which is poverty. In order to address household food insecurity, policies to increase income are needed (e.g., affordable childcare, higher minimum wages, higher income-assistance rates, and affordable, safe housing). With its goal of reducing overall poverty in BC by 25% by 2020, BC’s Poverty Reduction Strategy is an important first step.

No one should have to choose between buying food and paying the bills. Municipal, provincial, and federal governments, businesses, and communities all play a role.

What are small steps that you can take to support poverty reduction in your community?

For more information on household food insecurity, check out this blog series:

Laurel Burton

About Laurel Burton

Laurel Burton is part of Northern Health’s team of population health dietitians, and is the food security lead for the vast region that comprises northern BC. Laurel is a big proponent of taking a multi-dimensional approach to health. Her work focuses on the social determinants of health and how they affect overall well-being, both at the individual and population level. Laurel has supported food security work in a variety of geographical regions, and has worked with groups across the lifecycle, within BC, and internationally, to support community and regional food systems development, for the aim of optimizing health. In her spare time, Laurel loves a good book, a hike in the woods with friends, or spending time at home baking sourdough bread, surrounded by her many, many houseplants.

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Fort Nelson HIV Awareness Week: using language to break down barriers

A table of HIV Awareness materials is pictured.

The table of materials at Fort Nelson’s HIV Awareness Week helps educate attendees.

Language is a powerful thing. It connects to who we are and how we see ourselves. So, when someone takes the time to reach out in your own language — instead of expecting you to understand theirs — it makes a difference.

For the past five years, the community of Fort Nelson has held an HIV Awareness Week. For the most recent one, held the week of April 29, 2019, they decided to mark the occasion by doing something special for the Indigenous members of their community.

Working together with the Fort Nelson Aboriginal Friendship Society, they translated their yearly presentation on HIV into Dené, the most prominent Indigenous language in the area.

“We had one or two Elders who teared up,” said Jennifer Riggs, Regulated Pharmacy Technician and the key organizer for the event. “They were so happy that we took the time — I don’t think it mattered what the conversation was about — but they were so happy that we did it in their language. They really appreciated that we made an effort.”

Fort Nelson, located in Northeastern BC, has a large Indigenous population: roughly 14% of the population identify as Indigenous.

“This event is important in Northern BC, especially in our very isolated towns,” says Jennifer. “Indigenous people have a higher prevalence of HIV … and they aren’t getting that information. We’re trying to bring people up to date.”

This lack of information was the reason Jennifer and her team put in the time and effort to translate the presentation. She wants to ensure that they aren’t left out of the conversation. She hopes to do even more next year by translating the presentation into another Indigenous language.

HIV isn’t something that people usually get excited about, but for Fort Nelson, the event has become something to look forward to. Jennifer estimates that attendance has quadrupled since the initial event five years ago. She hopes that with continued outreach to the Indigenous communities in the area, attendance will continue to grow.

“So many people attend and we’ve come full circle, from where people weren’t talking about sex, to now having condom races at the fire department! It’s becoming normal conversation.”

For Jennifer, this is what it’s all about: to make conversations about topics such as HIV, sex, sexual orientation, and addiction less painful for people to talk about, and to make them part of everyday conversation.

“I want it to be a regular thing. I want continual education and training available all the time. It shouldn’t be a big deal.”

Mark Hendricks

About Mark Hendricks

Mark is the Communications Advisor, Medical Affairs at Northern Health. He was raised in Prince George, and has earned degrees from UNBC (International Business) and Thompson Rivers University (Journalism). As a fan of Fall and Winter, the North suits him and he’s happy to be home in Prince George. When he's not working, Mark enjoys spending time with his wife, reading, playing games of all sorts, hiking, and a good cup (or five) of coffee.

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Available now: Summer edition of NH’s public magazine

Check out the latest issue of NH’s public magazine, now available online in flipbook form: Northern Health: Health and Wellness in the North, Summer 2019.

Featuring articles on dementia care, telehealth, the Healthy Terrace program, a new Gitxsan phrasebook in Hazelton, vaping, the NH Connections bus, and more, the magazine will also be distributed soon in print — watch for it in a health care facility near you!

The cover of the summer 2019 edition of Northern Health: Health and Wellness in the North is pictured. The cover features two young boys on the edge of a lake, looking out.

Read the latest issue of NH’s public magazine!

Your feedback and suggestions on the magazine are welcome – email communications@northernhealth.ca.

Anne Scott

About Anne Scott

Anne is a communications officer at Northern Health; she lives in Prince George with her husband Andrew Watkinson. Her current health goals are to do a pull-up and more than one consecutive “real” push-up. She also dreams of becoming a master’s level competitive sprinter and finding a publisher for her children’s book on colourblindness. Anne enjoys cycling, cross-country skiing, reading, writing, sugar-free chocolate, and napping -- sometimes all on the same day!

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Moving and eating well on road trips

Lasalle Lake is pictured. There's a floating dock in the lake, and forest and mountains in the background.

The view of Lasalle Lake — a beautiful way to break up the trip between Prince George and Valemount!

Even though it feels like summer is flying by, it’s only mid-August, and there’s still plenty of summer-road-trip time before the weather turns! I love me a road trip: the conversation that arises from being in a car with someone for hours; the tunes and the awful, off-key karaoke; and all of the stops along the way!

Those stops are generally for any combination of food, scenery, or a bio-break, but there’s also a great health benefit. After hours of sitting, it’s important to move! The same concerns that you hear around sedentary workplaces and lifestyles apply to long-distance travel. While it’s great to get to your destination ASAP, sitting less and moving more is always a good choice.

Admittedly, I’m not great at making the kinds of stops that make for positive heath impacts, but my wife loves to get out and enjoy the scenery. Recently, before heading home to Prince George from Valemount, she asked a local if there was a good lake to stop at on our route home. He told us to check out Lasalle Lake, and it was gorgeous! On top of enjoying a stunning view, stopping gave us a chance to get some steps in (time that we counted towards the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week), have a stretch, and take a swim before carrying on. That stop added a nice “bonus” memory to the trip too! And it was as easy as asking someone, followed by a quick search on Google Maps. Just remember to always choose a location that suits your fitness level.

I also find planning to stop at an outdoor location challenges us to pack a lunch in a cooler, which usually ends up being healthier than the fast food options on the side of the highway. We usually do sandwiches, but sometimes we treat ourselves to a little meat and cheese board (nom-nom-nom!). Regardless of how healthy we pack, we always feel less rushed and enjoy our food more when we’ve found a nice spot to relax. As the primary driver, I always feel more refreshed and in a better headspace for driving too.

Do you have a favourite place to stop between destinations? What’s in your picnic basket when you stop for lunch? Let me know in the comments below, and safe travels!

Mike Erickson

About Mike Erickson

Mike Erickson is the Communications Specialist, Content Development and Engagement at Northern Health, and has been with the organization since 2013. He grew up in the Lower Mainland and has called Prince George home since 2007. In his spare time, Mike enjoys spending time with friends and family, sports, reading, movies, and generally nerding out. He loves the slower pace of life and lack of traffic in the North.

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Aboriginal/Indigenous Health Improvement Committees: what are they and how do they impact health care in the North?

The Local Cultural Guide guide is pictured. The cover features a stunning image of a totem, as well as a wood building with Indigenous art on it.

The Local Cultural Resources Guide, created by the A/IHICs, supports health practitioners’ understanding of Indigenous community cultures, histories, and contexts.

Aboriginal/Indigenous Health Improvement Committees (A/IHICs) are action oriented groups of people who work together to support health and wellness for Indigenous people, families, and communities in Northern BC.

The A/IHICs began in 2005 and there are now eight across the Northern Health (NH) region:

NH is committed to partnering with Indigenous peoples and communities, and to building a health care system that honours diversity and provides culturally safe services.

The A/IHICs are made up of many different types of people, including local representation from Indigenous communities and organizations, the First Nations Health Authority, Northern Health, and other sectors.

A/IHICs provide opportunities for new connections and stronger relationships and cultural understandings between diverse communities and sectors working for the health and well-being of Indigenous people and communities.

The members of each A/IHIC bring perspectives and experiences from people who live in their communities and access health care. Through the A/IHICs, Indigenous peoples’ perspectives inform local priorities and solutions!

The work of the A/IHICs is driven by three key questions:

  1. If I was a new practitioner coming to your community, what would you like me to know about you so that I could serve you better?
  2. What is it that you need to know so that you can be the best practitioner that you can be?
  3. What is it that we need to know to be the very best partner that we can be to communities and other organizations?

The A/IHICs operate with the principle that Indigenous health is holistic and seeks balance. At the heart of this view is an understanding that all things – land, water, air, animals, individuals, families, and communities – are connected and in relation to one another. Holistic health is a process that demands a broad and inclusive perspective for addressing health issues.

Over the years, the A/IHICs have undertaken many different projects, including mapping patient journeys across Northern BC. Patient journey and process maps are an opportunity for communities to bring their voice into the health care system and identify opportunities for change in health services, as well as to identity local solutions and concrete actions that can be taken at the local level. The gaps and challenges that were identified can be collaboratively addressed through local strategies and solutions.  If you want more information on this project, you can read the full Mapping Summary Report.

Each A/IHIC has also worked to create local cultural resources that support health practitioners’ understanding of Indigenous community cultures, histories, and contexts. Check out the Local Cultural Resources booklet (produced by NH’s Indigenous Health department) for more details.

Shelby Petersen

About Shelby Petersen

Shelby is the Web Services Coordinator with Indigenous Health. Shelby has over five years of experience working in content development and digital marketing. After graduating with a degree in Political Science from UNBC, Shelby moved to Vancouver where she pursued a career in digital marketing. Most recently, Shelby was the Senior Content Developer and Project Manager with a digital advertising agency in Vancouver, British Columbia. Born and raised in Prince George, Shelby is thrilled to be back in the community and spending time outside enjoying everything that the North has to offer.

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Sometimes you walk, sometimes you run, sometimes… you bounce!

Four women standing in workout attire in front of an inflatable part of the Bounce Run.

We did it! (L-R) Desa, Sandy, Bonnie and I took on the challenge of the 5K Mega Bounce Run, and what fun we had!

Have you ever watched people do crazy and fun things for physical activity and think, “Man, that would be so fun, I should do that!”… and then you chicken out? You chicken out because you think you can’t do it, because you might look or feel silly, or you’re not in good enough shape to do the whole thing? Me too!

That’s always me – or I should say, that was always me. But no more. When my good friend asked me and a few other women about the 5K Mega Bounce Run, I knew that I had to do it, and I wasn’t going to chicken out this time!

Up until the morning of this amazing 5K of bouncing, sliding, climbing, rolling, and oh so much laughing with three awesome women, I’ll admit, I was trying to find a way out. Thankfully, their enthusiasm and good nature convinced me to power through my cold feet, and I did.

Lorrelle and her friends running through an inflatable obstacle course at the Mega Bounce Run.

Lorrelle and her friends participating at the Mega Bounce Run.

Good exercise was just an added bonus. For me, this was about doing something new and fun as a team of women who work together every day. Busy as we are in our work and personal lives, we took the time to hang out and go crazy for two hours on a beautiful Saturday morning! (It took some more serious athletes much less time.) We stuck together, cheered each other on, and lifted each other up (literally, at times).

Sometimes getting out of your comfort zone is the best way to find out if you enjoy something new, especially when it comes to getting active! I know now that I’ll be looking for more goofy 5Ks to conquer with my pals.

Activities like this are contagious! Now, as my friend did for me, I’m encouraging our fellow employees to join our team of “Northern Stars” to come out and bounce through a 5K with us.

Thank you to my friend Desa for introducing me to this new addiction, and to Bonnie and Sandy for making it happen. Our team is looking for competition next year. Are you up for something new?

Until then…smile and bounce on.

Lorrelle Hall

About Lorrelle Hall

Born and raised in Prince George BC, Lorrelle loves her hometown and is proud to be a PG girl, through and through! She and husband Lyn have raised twin daughters, and love being active in the community. Lorrelle works as an Executive Assistant to the Northern Health Communications team, and works closely with the Hospital Auxiliaries and Foundations. When not at work, she loves to spend time with husband, their families and friends! She loves to volunteer, and travel wherever the sun is shining and most of all hanging out with her grand fur baby Arlo!

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I came for… I stayed because… with Cecilia Chiumia

Cecilia stands in her office.

Cecilia at work.

Recently, I’ve noticed a common theme in my conversations with Northern Health staff! Many staff members planned to come to the North for a short time, but have stayed for a lot longer. Meet one such person: Cecilia Chiumia, Team Lead, Inpatient Psychiatric Unit in Dawson Creek. Cecilia is from Africa and came to Northern Health in 2008.

I came for…

I’ve travelled all my life. My mom worked for an airline and my dad worked for an oil company. So, growing up, I was very exposed to travelling. After completing high school, I wanted to travel some more. I decided to move to the United Kingdom (UK) to pursue nursing. I spent a lot of time travelling across Europe and Africa, but after 18 years, decided it was time for a change.

In 2006, my partner and I made the decision to move to North America. We found Canada appealing and decided it was where we wanted to live. I was initially hired by Interior Health and worked in Kamloops, and my partner was hired by Northern Health and worked in Dawson Creek. In 2008, we decided that I’d move to Dawson Creek. We had a two-year plan to stay here, then we would move on to somewhere else.

Cecilia and four of her co-workers dressed in Christmas-themed outfits, holding a tinsel frame around them.

Cecilia celebrating the holidays with her unit co-workers at a holiday celebration (L-R) Helen, Elizabeth, Debbie, Brenda, and Cecilia.

I stayed because…

I’ve enjoyed working for Northern Health and have great co-workers. There are lots of opportunities for professional development and career growth. I’ve taken available opportunities that have allowed me to grow. When I left the UK, I was in a leadership position, and I am back in a leadership position at Northern Health.

The morale and sense of community is amazing. It feels similar to what I had growing up in Africa. It’s a small community with friendly neighbours who welcomed us with open arms. Wherever you go, people are accommodating. Not only people I work with, but people I have met that have become my friends. It’s been a great place to raise our children.

We continue to travel, and have seen most of BC. Airline travel has become easier thanks to more flights from Dawson Creek and Fort St. John. We can easily get to new and exciting destinations throughout North America. Whenever I travel, I am truly excited when I get back home to Dawson Creek. Twelve years on, I’ve realized that our two-year plan is out the window, and we are here to stay.

Tamara Reichert

About Tamara Reichert

Tamara is the communications advisor for the innovation and development commons at Northern Health where she works on a number of projects with the research, quality improvement, clinical simulation, and education teams. Born and raised in Prince George, Tamara grew up on a ranch where she rode horses, played with farm animals, built forts, and raided the family garden. She enjoys spending time travelling, hiking, cooking, reading, and cheering for her favourite sports teams.

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The St. John Hospital acute care garden: improving quality of life for people waiting for long-term care

The acute care garden gives seniors waiting for long-term opportunities for engagement, socialization, and mobility.

This spring, the residents and staff at St. John Hospital (Vanderhoof) came together to start a garden for acute care patients who are on long-term care waitlists. Acute patients who are waiting for a long-term care spot can have limited access to activities and recreation. This project gives them opportunities for engagement, socialization, and mobility on the acute floor.

Many of the residents grew up in or around Vanderhoof, and were avid farmers and gardeners throughout their lives. Now, they can tend, water, weed, and enjoy this garden. Doing so reconnects them to their past, sparking old memories, and contributes to their sense of purpose.

This project was started by the Rehabilitation Department at the St. John Hospital, which includes occupational therapist Valerie Padgin, rehabilitation assistant Roxanne, and myself (also an occupational therapist). It’s part of a DementiAbility initiative.

Thanks to the generous donations and support from several family members, the acute care garden is now thriving, growing tomatoes and lettuce! This project wouldn’t be possible without:

  • Maya Sullivan from the Vanderhoof Community Garden for loaning the hospital a wheelchair accessible planter, which got the project started.
  • The Men’s Shed for building two additional planters.
  • The Co-op and Home Hardware in Vanderhoof for donating soil, potting mix, gloves, hand tools, and a watering can.
  • Eileen at Maxine’s Greenhouse for donating dozens of beautiful plants that are flourishing in the garden.
  • Allan Pagdin and Joanne Petrie, who put in several hours of time and labour to make the project a success.

We hope the garden continues to grow and improve the lives of our residents and acute care patients!

Laura Giroux

About Laura Giroux

Laura is an Occupational Therapist at the St. John Hospital in Vanderhoof. Originally from Vancouver Island, Laura has been in the North for nearly four years, and enjoys all of the recreation and outdoor activities that it has to offer. She recently joined the Rehabilitation Department at St. John Hospital and is excited to work on such a creative and compassionate team.

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