A Life's Story

February 02, 2019

Quiet, Humble caregiver

Orthopedic surgeon stood tall for patients, family, friends

By: Kevin Rollason

There are hundreds of Manitobans — and Ukrainians — who are able to walk around and enjoy life today, and the last few decades, thanks to Dr. Ihor Mayba.

Mayba, an orthopedic surgeon credited with performing the first total hip and knee joint replacements at the former Misericordia Hospital, died Oct. 25 at 87.

Dr. Ihor Mayba worked at the Misericordia Hospital, the Health Sciences Centre, Children’s Hospital, Rehabilitation Hospital, and the former Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children. (Supplied)

Dr. Ihor Mayba worked at the Misericordia Hospital, the Health Sciences Centre, Children’s Hospital, Rehabilitation Hospital, and the former Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children. (Supplied)

“He treated everyone the same,” said Mayba’s son, Paul. “It didn’t matter what walk of life, nationality, rich or poor. He taught me to treat everybody like you want to be treated.”

Helen, Mayba’s wife of 60 years, said her husband wasn’t born in Ukraine, but he went there eight times, starting in 1992, not only to visit but to help.

“He went on medical expeditions,” she said. “He liked to help people. He would take medical books and tools over to give to the doctors and he would offer a helping hand... He would go to hospitals and clinics there and then he would keep in touch with them.”

Helen said the only time she accompanied her husband was on his final trip to Ukraine in 2005. “It was the year of the Orange Revolution, and he wanted me to experience it. He didn’t know then it was the last time he would go there.”

Mayba was born May 23, 1931, the youngest of five children in Vegreville, Alta., to two Ukrainian immigrants: Rev. Ivan Mayba and his wife, Sophia. With his dad a minister, the family moved several times when Mayba was a child, to towns and villages across Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario.

Mayba graduated from North Battleford Collegiate Institute in Saskatchewan and decided to move to Winnipeg in 1949, to join his brother who was already in the city, taking agriculture at the University of Manitoba.

He graduated with a bachelor of science in 1952, followed by a medical degree in 1957, before doing his internship at St. Boniface Hospital and a year of postgraduate work at Colonel Belcher Hospital in Calgary.

Mayba met the woman who would become his wife of 60 years at a Ukrainian society function at the U of M.

“He joined it with a few others. I went there, but I didn’t go to the University of Manitoba. I was a school teacher and I went to Normal School, but that’s where I met him,” Helen said.

Ihor Mayba with wife Helen (Supplied)

Ihor Mayba with wife Helen (Supplied)

Mayba returned to the U of M and received a surgery diploma in 1962. While working at the Manitoba Clinic, he met an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Elmer James, who helped convince Mayba to go back for even more training to become an orthopedic surgeon himself.

He began training at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal; two years later, he returned to the Manitoba Clinic in his new role.

“He was a very quiet man and very low key,” said his son, Paul. “To be honest, you wouldn’t have thought he was a doctor if you met him on the street.”

Dr. Peter MacDonald credits Mayba with teaching him how to do the surgery to remove a protruding lumbar disc.

“This was an operation he was very slick at, and he had learned from Dr. James,” MacDonald said. “Dr. Mayba was a very dedicated orthopedic surgeon who served the community for decades... We admire the dedication he had to his profession.”

Former patient Leona Radchuk said Mayba operated on her twice to help her with back problems.

Mayba was proud he was the first of three generations of doctors. (Supplied)

Mayba was proud he was the first of three generations of doctors. (Supplied)

“He was an excellent doctor,” she said, adding whenever her family doctor retired or moved, Mayba would find another physician to refer her to, the last being his son, John.

“He was an excellent friend, too. I miss him and I always will.”

Besides Misericordia, Mayba worked at the Health Sciences Centre, Children’s Hospital, Rehabilitation Hospital, and the former Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children.

When Mayba wasn’t working in a hospital or clinic, or volunteering with a medical association or organization, he was an enthusiastic member of the local Sherlock Holmes Society, Arthur Conan Doyle Society, and the Intrepid Society.

Fellow Sherlock Holmes member, Ron Robinson, said as part of their membership, all members had to give talks about different aspects of the famous fictional British detective.

“Dr. Mayba was a regular member,” Robinson said. “Really, every doctor is a bit of a detective trying to figure out what what’s wrong. Sherlock came from the experience of Conan Doyle working with Dr. Joseph Bell.

Ihor Mayba and Helen in Kiev in 2005. (Supplied)

Ihor Mayba and Helen in Kiev in 2005. (Supplied)

“I think Dr. Mayba would have liked that aspect of Sherlock. And he was always at meetings when it became a challenge for some.”

Helen said her husband also loved Sherlock Holmes stories because the detective’s sidekick was a medical doctor, like himself.

“There was the medical aspect which he liked,” she said. “He would give writeups, especially on the medical parts of the stories.”

Mayba wrote two books: Manitoba Clinic 1946-1996 and a history of orthopedic surgeons in Manitoba, Bonesetters and Others: Pioneer Orthopaedic Surgeons.

Outside of work and Holmes, Mayba also liked watching the Winnipeg Jets, and, that’s how he became friends with Albert Cohen, founder of Gendis Inc., the company that introduced Sony transistor radios to the Canadian market. Mayba’s NHL season tickets were near where Cohen sat.

“The two of them just hit it off,” Helen said. “He would meet at the Gendis office or at his house.”

Mayba was gratified that he was the first of three generations of physicians in the family, his wife said.

“Our son, John, is a doctor, and he was able to get to his granddaughter’s graduation in May,” she said.

“He was very thrilled. He would often discuss medicine with her. He was extremely proud when she graduated, and said she will make a very fine doctor... He never bragged about himself, but he accomplished a lot and helped a lot of people.”

Mayba is survived by his wife, son Paul, son John and his wife, Natalie, and four grandchildren. He was predeceased by his two brothers and two sisters.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

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