London News & Search
As he was about to undergo brain surgery to treat his epilepsy, Domino’s Canada CEO Mike Schlater made a promise to his surgeon Dr. David Steven.
“I told him if he didn’t turn me into a vegetable, I’d back him on something he needed one day,” said Schlater, who had his first seizure in Nov. 2007.
“The opportunity came up to get this sophisticated machine. I wanted to help the doctor who has helped me so much to be able to help others too.”
Schlater and his wife Lilibeth, a Leamington couple who’ve given millions of dollars to charities in recent years, provided $500,000 for a new brain-surgery robot for the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC).
The machine robotically assists doctors by helping to pinpoint the source of seizures in the brain. That allows the surgeon to more accurately remove the portion of the brain responsible for the seizures.
It also allows doctors to do up to three such surgeries in a day instead of one.
“They removed nearly nine per cent of my brain,” said Schlater, who had his surgery at the London Health Sciences Centre in March, 2012.
“I feel wonderful. I’m in the best shape since I was in Grade 9.”
It’s the second major donation the couple has made since May to assist those, especially children, with epilepsy. A $2-million donation to the Children’s Hospital Foundation in Winnipeg will set up epilepsy and children’s neurosurgical programs that will begin operation in January.
“I started with Domino’s first franchises outside the United States in Winnipeg in 1983 and I love the people there,” said Schlater, who still funds a program to feed the homeless weekly in the Manitoba capital.
“Those poor kids and their families had to either go to Calgary or Sick Kids’ in Toronto for 30 to 120 days at a time. Now they won’t have to travel.”
In all, the Schlaters have donated more than $11-million to various charities.
Though he continues to support a number of charitable activities, Schlater admits having experienced four major seizures and numerous less serious ones has focused more of his donations on epilepsy.
His 25-year-old daughter Brittany experienced a milder form of epilepsy from age five to 12.
“I thought she was dying,” Schlater recalled. “I was freaking out, crying.
“I didn’t know much about it. It still doesn’t have as high a profile as some other health issues.
“That’s another reason why we’ve focused more on it.”
Schlater, who now calls Leamington home, acknowledges the great irony of how he’s now benefiting from the same institutions he has financially helped.
He credits his wife and the friends he’s made at the LHSC, especially Dr. Faisal Rehman, for pushing him into accepting he had a serious issue to deal with.
“I was in full-blown denial,” admits Schlater, who was 47 at the time of his first seizure.
“I kept it hidden in the business afterward because I didn’t want people to think I was making excuses. I was fortunate I had already hired Michael Curran as president to run the business.”
After four major seizures, the turning point came when Schlater was deemed a candidate for the brain surgery. Only about 15 per cent of patients are candidates for the treatment.
“You have to have three seizures they can pinpoint from the same area of the brain to be a candidate for the surgery,” said Schlater, who hasn’t had a seizure since his surgery.
“You’re awake during the operation. You’re answering the doctor’s questions while he’s operating so he knows how much of your brain to remove.”
Schlater admits his experience with epilepsy changed his perspective on the couple’s charitable work.
“We both come from very poor backgrounds,” said Schlater, a native of Dayton, Ohio, while his wife came to Canada from the Philippines in 1990 as a nanny.
“Most of the things we did were aimed at helping the poor, but we’ve seen how health issues can also make people poor.
“We’re not interested in funding new buildings and new paint jobs. We want to fund things and doctors who are directly impacting people, especially children.”
Schlater said charity has always been a way of life in his family despite his modest upbringing. Now instead of nickels and dimes, it’s millions being donated.
“We never had it growing up and we can’t take it with us,” Schlater said. “It makes us feel good helping people. It’s the best thing in the world to spend money on.
“Anybody can do it. It can $5 or $10, it doesn’t have to be a lot to make a difference.
“The important thing is to do something.”
The Schlaters aren’t just making an impact with their money. They also give of their time.
Lilibeth Schlater volunteers in the gift shop every Wednesday at the Hospital for Sick Children when the couple is staying at their Toronto condo. She also is part of a group of women who sew quilts and children’s clothing to raise money for the hospital.
When asked for a favourite memory of how the couple is making an impact, it isn’t handing over a large cheque that leaps to mind.
It’s the joy in a young girl’s face after buying her a stuffed bear because her family couldn’t afford with mounting bills for their son’s extended stay at the hospital.
“I feel really good about what we’re doing,” said Lilibeth Schlater, who convinced her husband to scrap plans for their dream house so they had more money to donate to their favourite causes.
“We’re blessed to have the money to share with people.
“We love kids. A lot of kids have health problems that the money can help.
“We have to help because we can.”
RECENT CHARITABLE DONATIONS BY MIKE AND LILIBETH SCHLATER
· $1-million to help build the Windsor Regional Hospital’s Vascular Health and Research Institute
· $1.5 million to the Sick Kids Foundation
· $1 million to the Heart and Stroke Foundation
· $1 million to the Kidney Foundation of Canada
· $1 million to the children’s hospital in London
· $1.6 million ($10,000 per year for four years) to pay for 40 Queen of Peace Catholic Elementary students from the June, 2014 graduating Grade 8 class to attend post-secondary school
· funded a program for over 50 inner city students from single-parent families in Cincinnati to attend private school
· $2-million to the Children’s Hospital Foundation in Winnipeg
· $500,000 to purchase robot for epilepsy brain surgery treatment
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