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Life-changing workplace accident sent Saskatchewan man on new path

“I get to be part of the team that protects some of the most sensitive information that you have, as a person,” says Michael McGill.

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Michael McGill knew he would always have work in the construction industry.

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“There’s always a building to be done, there’s always that type of work to be done. It was something I could do for the rest of my life,” he said.

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On Aug. 30, 2011, after more than 20 years in carpentry, a career-ending workplace accident removed that certainty.

A serious concussion and a back injury that required surgery left McGill with a long healing journey ahead of him, shadowed by the knowledge he wouldn’t be able to return to construction.

“I just simply wasn’t going to be a candidate to return to work… to do the physical labor that I did prior to work in construction,” he said.

While in recovery from surgery he’d waited more than 16 months to receive, he went through a period of negative thoughts and depression, he said.

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With his wife of 19 years, Lesley, supporting him through these dark moments, he knew he had to try to work hard toward recovery.

“My wife was my rock, no doubt about that. My wife was absolutely my rock through all of it,” McGill said.

He also received support from family, friends and health workers along the way, helping him get through the hardest points to create a successful new life and career.

“I’ve been so blessed … (to have) the people who have impacted my career and my life,” he said.

In 2013, after hearing about Canadian golfer Andrew Jensen’s struggles with mental health, McGill started talking to a psychologist, who helped him to shift his thought patterns.

“The thought change for me is, ‘You know what? I’m going to start to fight for my happiness,’” he said.

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With this new outlook, McGill redirected his focus to health care — another area that, like construction, would always offer steady work.

“Health care is always going to be required — people need health care,” he said.

McGill joined the health information management (HIM) program at Saskatchewan Polytechnic in Regina as a 36-year-old mature student in 2014.

In his second year, a practicum placement in the office of the Saskatchewan Information and Privacy Commissioner led him to find a passion for health information privacy.

“A lot of what (HIMs) do has such an incredible influence on patient care and the outcomes of patients themselves,” he said.

Acquiring his diploma in 2016, he turned it into a lasting career in the privacy field. After a few years in Saskatoon, in positions with the Saskatoon Cancer Agency, the Saskatoon Health Region and eventually the Saskatchewan Health Authority, he moved to Victoria, BC in 2021, where he is now the manager of information stewardship, audit and privacy for Island Health.

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“I get to be part of the team that protects some of the most sensitive information that you have, as a person … It’s a really neat feeling, and a really neat job to have,” he said.

Inspired by the support he received during his time at Sask Polytech, he and Lesley have committed to provide an annual $1,000 bursary to help a returning mature student with financial concerns. The first bursary will be available to a student in the 2023 fall semester.

“We’re very excited about it,” McGill said.

By sharing his story and giving back to the institute that helped him find his new path, McGill said he hopes to assure people in similar situations that there is hope.

“You can find success and you can find a second life after what is a life-altering or life-changing event that you experience,” he said.

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“We’re never too old to learn. We’re never too old to grow, to be better, to evolve, to change, to be willing to change and to change for the better.”

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