'You've got to love the kids': Montreal plastic surgeon honoured for years of work with children

Ask Dr. Mirko Gilardino what he loves about his job and he'll tell you it's the bond he builds with his young patients as well as their families.

On Thursday Gilardino, who is a plastic surgeon and head of the Montreal Children's Hospital's Craniofacial and Cleft Surgery team, was honoured with the Canadian Italian Business and Professional Association of Montreal's Person of the Year Award.

But Frank Saracino would argue the award falls a little short.

"For us, he's the person of the decade," said Saracino.

Saracino's son, David, was born with a genetic disorder called Crouzon Syndrome. It causes certain skull bones to fuse prematurely, preventing the skull from growing normally.

When David was just nine years old, Gilardino performed a nine-hour surgery on him. Four years later, David is in good health.

Thinking back to that time, Saracino said he was struck by Gilardino's patience, understanding and compassion, as well as his follow-up visits.

"On a Saturday night he was on his way out with his wife and he came by just to see how we were doing," said Saracino.

"He came to see David. But deep down in our hearts we know he came to see us too, because he knew we were going through a hard time."

Fell in love with practice as student

Gilardino commonly works with conditions like cleft lips or palates, but some patients are affected by more complicated syndromes, as in David's case.  

As a student, Gilardino set his mind on plastic surgery when working under Dr. Bruce Williams, the former surgeon-in-chief at the Children's and an award-winning plastic surgeon.

"I rotated with him and fell in love with the practice, the treatment, the kids, the surgery," Gilardino said in an interview with CBC Montreal's Homerun.

"You've got to love the kids, and you've got to love working with their families."

Gilardino also runs a private practice, so his patients can be followed into adulthood.

The Person of the Year Award brings Gilardino somewhat full circle. He received a bursary from CIBPA as a student 20 years ago.

Gilardino believes some of the success he's had comes from the team around him at the Montreal Children's Hospital.

"I'm very proud of the things that we've done," he said.

"We do world-class research, we're well recognized, we get referrals from all over the place. It is a total honour."