Doctor researching rare genetic disorders 1 of 3 Manitobans inducted into Order of Canada

A Winnipeg doctor whose research focuses on figuring out what causes rare genetic disorders within certain populations in Manitoba is one of three people in the province to be among the newest recipients of the Order of Canada.

Cheryl Rockman-Greenberg said she was sitting at her desk, surrounded by students and colleagues at the Children’s Hospital Research Institute, when she got the call telling her the news about two weeks ago.

“It was just dead silence on my part,” she said on Saturday after the list of inductees was announced publicly.

“I know the critical problems that face the world — and yet, somebody felt that a physician who works every day to care for families and children and adults with rare diseases deserves an honour. To me, it meant something special … It’s going to take a little while for all this to sink in.”

Two other Manitobans were also given the honour: Louis-Frédéric Paquin, for his contributions to francophone culture through the creation of Franco-Manitoban television and documentaries, and Janice Sanderson, for her leadership within Manitoba’s public service by promoting improved quality of life and health for children.

Rockman-Greenberg, who is a clinician scientist at the research institute and a distinguished professor at the University of Manitoba, said she only planned to stay in Winnipeg temporarily when she came here after finishing school in Montreal over four decades ago.

“I thought I would stay six months, but I have been here for 41 years,” she said. “It’s been a perfect fit.”

Rockman-Greenberg’s research has involved screening newborns for genetic disorders to detect them before symptoms appear. It also places an emphasis on working with the people involved to make sure the patient stays at the centre of any healthcare recommendations.

Her work has included various Hutterite, Mennonite, First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities. Because of the unique populations she’s gotten the chance to work with, Rockman-Greenberg said her career might have looked very different outside of Manitoba.

“I’ve been fortunate to work in partnership with these communities,” she said.

As an undergraduate student, Rockman-Greenberg said, it was the professors she had along the way who inspired her to pursue her medical degree and research career. Now, she said she’s entering a new phase of her career that’s focused on sharing her knowledge with the next generation of researchers.

“Research, to me, has always been about working in partnership with families and communities. And I’ve been very lucky and if I’ve been able to give back and share some of the knowledge, then it’s been a really wonderful experience for me,” she said.

“As long as I feel I can contribute to my profession, to my patients and families, I’ll continue to work, particularly in research.”

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