Former General, now doctor, defending against COVID-19

Craig Donaldson and front-line workers receiving meals for their hard work in the emergency room in Orangeville. Photo credit: Craig Donaldson

In the past, Craig Donaldson has been through many battles while helping the Oshawa Generals win a Memorial Cup. Now a doctor, he is helping in the battle against COVID-19, hoping for the same victorious results.

Donaldson, who will be turning 50 in May, played three years for the Oshawa Generals and helped them win a Memorial Cup in 1990.

Hockey card of former Oshawa Generals defenceman Craig Donaldson
The hockey card of former Oshawa Generals defenceman Craig Donaldson. Photo credit: Craig Donaldson

Currently, Donaldson is working in an emergency room Orangeville in the midst of a global pandemic and helping fight the battle against COVID-19.

“Nobody expects a pandemic during their medical career,” says Donaldson, who nevertheless assures his team is prepared to battle COVID-19. “Health care workers are always trained and ready and we can deal with a lot.”

Before becoming a doctor, Donaldson was hoping to get looks from National Hockey League (NHL) teams, but that didn’t go as planned.

“I don’t think I was on the radar for many NHL teams then,” he says laughing.

After getting no offers to play pro hockey, Donaldson activated a junior hockey education package, which the Generals honoured. This allowed him to get three years of university paid for, one for each season he played in Oshawa.

He says he chose to attend the University of Western Ontario in London (now Western University) because they had a great science and medicine program and a strong hockey team.

At Western, the former General studied biochemistry for four years and played five seasons of Ontario University Athletics (OUA) hockey for the Mustangs.

Donaldson’s final hockey stretch was a remarkable one.

It included an OUA title, two USA Cup appearances and a chance to play for Canada at the Spengler Cup, an annual international tournament in Switzerland. He was also Western’s team captain for three seasons.

“For a guy who never played a lick of pro, I’d say I had a great hockey career,” he says.

He also graduated top of his class, with a gold medal in honours chemistry, which is awarded to the student with the highest average in all the courses credited towards the degree.

Donaldson officially closed the books on his hockey career in 1996 but continued his studies.

After four years of medical school at Western, two years of family practice residency at the University of Toronto and a one-year emergency room fellowship to specialize in emergency medicine, Donaldson graduated with a full Doctor of Medicine degree in 2003.

Following that he worked at small-time emergency rooms in Haliburton and Bowmanville to gain experience.

He eventually landed at Headwaters Health Care Centre in Orangeville, Ont. in 2006, when it came up on the radar as an under-serviced area and Donaldson started working full-time there after that.

“It’s been such a good match of people that I have been there ever since,” he says.

In the COVID-19 circumstance, supplies have been in demand and Donaldson says that they have increased their personal protective equipment to the level that would help protect against the virus.

Craig Donaldson working in the emergency room at Headwaters Health Care Centre in Orangeville, Ont.
Craig Donaldson working in the emergency room at Headwaters Health Care Centre in Orangeville, Ont.

Donaldson says the main concern for front-line workers is the possibility of the number of patients exceeding hospital capacity.

“That’s why we’re very supportive of the social distancing mandate that the Canadian Public Health and politicians have been promoting,” he explains.

He believes social distancing is the best way to stop this pandemic from overwhelming our health-care system.

Donaldson credits Canada for being a world leader during this pandemic and following appropriate protocol.

“As a country, we’re letting the scientists, epidemiologists and public health specialists take the lead,” he says.

Donaldson also praises the people of Canada for playing their part in this pandemic.

“I think Canadians in general are willing to make short-term sacrifices for the betterment of our country.”

Despite this, Donaldson thinks the pandemic is still going to have devastating numbers.

“The best thing that we can do in this setting is make the damage as low as possible and keep the vulnerable population as safe as possible,” he says.

Donaldson expressed sympathy toward nursing homes across Ontario because they contain a very vulnerable sector of the population and have been receiving plenty of news coverage because of it.

He adds that it’s going to be extremely difficult to keep this virus out of Ontario nursing homes until there is a vaccine made, which he says is likely 18 months to two years away.

“They have an outstanding staff of front-line workers working extremely hard in very difficult conditions,” he says.

“I tip my hat to them because they are fighting the good fight and they truly care about the people they are taking care of.”

Personally, the former hockey player turned doctor says there have been mixed emotions through this pandemic.

He says he is trying to use the beliefs he learned during his time playing hockey and bring them to his current job.

“Morale, well-timed humour and recognizing others that are doing really good work are important in both fields,” he says.