Adapted from UofT Faculty of Medicine article by Erin Howe.
Cancer did not derail Precilla Veigas’s dream of achieving a PhD. In May 2017 Veigas received her PhD in a private degree presentation ceremony, with her 15-year-old daughter, family and colleagues nearby.
Veigas learned she had cancer in 2015. She had completed her research but still had half of her PhD thesis left to write. “My whole world turned upside down,” said Veigas. “But, I didn’t give up because I wanted to see my daughter grow in front of me.”
The graduation ceremony “…is a recognition of Precilla’s outstanding achievements in research,” said Luc De Nil, vice-dean of students at UofT’s School of Graduate Studies. “Having the courage and determination to complete a PhD is amazing, and it is especially important to recognize that she achieved her goal despite significant health challenges.”
Veigas initially began working as a research intern with Dr. Laurie Morrison, a faculty member at the IMS. She moved on to manage large, multi-centre studies with hospitals and emergency medical services across Ontario. Eventually, she decided she wanted to work towards a PhD and secured a spot in the lab of Dr. Sandro Rizoli, a professor of surgery and critical care medicine.
Veigas’s PhD research focused on a type of blood test that assesses bleeding and clotting disorders and how it can be used in the emergency room or hospital to help doctors make better decisions about blood transfusions. At the time of her diagnosis, Veigas was given six months to live – one year at best. Despite a bleak prognosis, Veigas continued her studies, exploring the value of ROTEM, or rotational thromboelastometry, for early transfusion management of significantly bleeding trauma patients who have trauma associated coagulopathy, a condition where blood’s ability to clot is impaired on arrival to the emergency room.
The potential to help future emergency room patients is just one legacy Veigas created. She also shared her love of learning with her 15-year old daughter – just as Veigas’s own mother fostered it in her.
“My mother kept telling us that if you study well, no one can snatch it from you. No one can rob education from you, and it will take you places,” she said. “I want to be a role model to my child. I always tell her, ‘Whatever you do, you have to do with close to perfection if not 100 per cent perfection.”
IMS Graduate Coordinator Dr. Vasundara Venkateswaran became a mentor to Veigas, helping to guide the PhD candidate through the process. She would often visit Veigas during her trips to the hospital for cancer treatments.
“It was never about herself. It was always about her desire to complete her degree,” said Venkateswaran. “She has this power and determination to go far and beyond to achieve her dream. She’s not just a role model for her daughter but for other graduates.”
Precilla Veigas sadly passed away in October 2017. You can read more about her remarkable legacy in the Toronto Star article.
Photo from Bernard Weil, Toronto Star.