Those born and raised in a small town like Fernie know their community and remain connected when living elsewhere. In recent years Kim McLennan-Robbins, husband Gord, and daughter Mikayela have shared remarkable images of the quilting, cross stitching, cooking, baking, travelling and other activities.
Kim is the oldest of two children born to Malcolm and Marjorie McLennan. She and brother Lance come from several generations of family born and raised in Fernie. With strong roots to Fernie and a condo in town, the family continues to spend time here.
Reminiscing about school she says, “Some teachers moulded me into the person I am, Norm Gill, Rose Watson, JP Hughes had a big influence on me. Monty Moran, Joe Gigliotti, Peter Caufield, I had such respect for them and really appreciate those teachers for what did for you.”
Kim met Gord Robbins while scuba diving in the Caribbean, realizing they were both living in Edmonton they struck up a conversation. Gord is an electrical engineering tech, his family lived in Calgary where his dad taught engineering at SAIT (Southern Alberta Institute of Technology) but when NAIT (Northern Alberta Institute of Technology) began the family moved to Edmonton where he managed the Math and Physics Department.
When daughter Mikayela, who is taking Captioning and Court Reporting, attended the NAIT open house this spring Gord showed her where her grandfather had worked. It was exciting for Mikayela to view her grandfather’s office where he used to teach close to where she will be taking classes at NAIT.
Kim’s goal was to get into the military and later to become an RCMP officer. She was accepted into the Forces, injured her knee in training and got a medical discharge. Disappointed she returned to Fernie applied at the local college and took office administration that led to a position at BC Coal. Changing direction, she moved to Edmonton to take nurses training. Part of the training was a month in the operating room, Kim was told that if she could study and prepare she could sit in surgery the next day however she picked up so much information the first day and studied so much that evening the she ended up working at that surgery. The instructor said Kim was a natural and so she spent four months as a student nurse in the operating room.
After graduation she applied for the same operating room and spent the next 37 years working there. It was work she was passionate about, and it provided her with opportunities she could have never imagined. She assisted with the first heart transplant undertaken in western Canada and was there for the liver, heart, kidney and lung transplants performed by various surgeons. She found the physiology and anatomy of each patient fascinating and felt lucky to scrub with Dr. Callaghan, the first doctor to perform open heart surgery in Canada and the one who developed the pacemaker and with William Lakey the doctor who performed the first kidney transplants in Alberta.
Kim said she was fascinated with the kidney, “It’s wonderful to connect the artery and vein and see how the urethra produces urine immediately. I’ve done it all, never felt squeamish or nervous, seen two with organs reversed, unique things like congenital defects, cleft palates, cleft lips, repairs for kids. The surgeons are amazing, I worked with three generations of surgeons and doctors. First night as an evening charge nurse in 1987 a tornado hit Edmonton. It was my first experience dealing with a disaster, many multi trauma patients requiring surgery, I coordinated everything, working at the University of Alberta hospital, it was a good leader role experience.”
She also kept in touch with Dr. Sparling East in Fernie. She commented, “He would often comment he was so proud of me, I kept the letters he wrote. I was a candy striper in the hospital, and in grades 11-12 I volunteered in the lab at his office, doing filing, clean up, any odd job they had in the Lab they gave me. I loved it there, everyone was nice to me and I loved dealing with patients.” It’s obvious Kim’s love for medicine started from an early age.
Five years ago, Gord retired so Kim went part time in the OR while working one day at the Cross Cancer Institute teaching the training program for breast cancer surgery. She trained as a first assist under the guidance of surgeons executing surgical procedures for 8 years, then for ten years she taught at MacEwan University in the post RN and LPN peri-operative program. She trained many of the nurses from Fernie, Cranbrook and across the country over the years saying, “When I took mom for eye surgery in Cranbrook the nurse I had trained took care of mom, that was a connection to home”.
In 2017 she stopped teaching and on June 8, 2021, retired from all the jobs she was doing. “I am good at time management, good at balancing, for Mikayela I never missed a dance competition or piano recital, or any competitive highland dancing over the world. We took our daughter to Scotland, Australia, Ireland for competitions. I’ve had a very supportive husband and daughter as (besides work) I was extremely involved for 20 years with ORNAC (Operating Room Nurses Association of Canada), president of Alberta section 2 years, treasurer of the district, co-chaired Operating Room conferences in Banff, chaired the national conference in Edmonton in 2015, chaired the 2017 conference in Niagara Falls, in 2019 chaired the one in Halifax, and this year chaired a national Covid virtual one.
In 1998 Gord and Kim went to a surgical mission in Guatemala, a team of 40 nurses, lay people, anesthesiologists and surgeons descended on Poco a Poca to treat 500 patients. This group was formed by a veterinarian from Victoria. The first day 200 people arrived, 105 surgeries were performed in two weeks, general and gynecology at the Hermano Pedro Hospital, one day assessing, second day surgery, 10 to 12 hours a day.
Gord worked with the surgeon’s wives unpacking 80 duffel bags of supplies from Canada and placing them for access to everyone. They were ready to troubleshoot, look where to buy blood, check for donations and fundraise to pay for use of the hospital. Patients were grateful for life changing surgery. Most had no money to pay but one guy brought a cow, it was all he had, the group understood so they accepted it asking if they could leave it so it could be taken care of for them. This was a way of showing respect and gratitude to the man for willing to give all he had in thanks for the care he had received.
Five years ago Gord retired so Kim went part time in the OR, working one day weekly at the Cross Cancer Institute training program for breast cancer surgery, she trained as a first assist doing surgical procedures for 8 years, then for ten years taught at the Mac Ewan University post RN and LPN peri operative program, training many of the Fernie and Cranbrook and across the country nurses over the years, “when I took mom for eye surgery in Cranbrook the nurse I taught took care of mom, that was a connection to home”.
In 2017 she stopped teaching and on June 8, 2021, retired from all the jobs. “I am good at time management, good at balancing, I never missed my daughter’s dance competition or piano recital, or any competitive highland dancing over the world, we took our daughter to Scotland, Australia, Ireland and other countries to compete. I was extremely involved for 20 years with ORNAC (Operating Room Nurses Association of Canada), president of Alberta section for 2 years, treasurer of the district, co- chaired OR conferences in Banff, chaired the national conference in Edmonton in 2015, chaired the conference in Niagara Falls 2017, in 2019 chaired the one in Halifax, 2021 chaired a Covid virtual conference and am chairing again presently the conference for 2023. In 2003 she sat as president of the Alberta International Federation of Peri Operative Nurses (IFPON) representing Canada, sat for ten years on the world board of Canadian Nurses Association on Peri Operative Certification with experts throughout the country helping to develop exams which involved being in Ottawa to develop the exam questions, curriculum, study guides, and looking at current practices to develop a blue print for the practice for peri-operative nurses. This meant developing competency practices for very high 6 -7 operating level across the country.
The family practices a strong faith and is involved at two different parishes as readers and servers. At Saint Vincent de Paul working in the social outreach program, with immigrants in need of food, clothing shelter, and working on weekend projects for kids that don’t have food and delivering to families who need assistance. They shop, put together and deliver bags of food to school for 50 kids that are placed in back packs without their knowledge. They are in the youth group leader programming at the church, have made and donated 240 quilts, crocheted numerous scarves and blankets for hospice and the Mustard Seed. Kim said “Grandma did it so I taught myself and learned from her, my passion is cross stitching people”. Gord takes photos and makes a pattern and then Kim transfers on it on cloth and makes them come alive on quilts. This year she will make a quilt for her daughter with memories and also special Christmas ornaments. The family also cooks, bakes and makes dozens of preserves.
They’ve traveled extensively, Kim has made two pilgrimages to Israel, first one attended by 40 people five from Canada and rest from the USA, one led by renowned priest Father Michael Schmitz and with lay person Jeff Cavens both fabulous tour guides she comments adding “Lots of scuba diving trips, Australia 8 times, cruise ships to Russia, Greece, Italy, Croatia, Caribbean, Alaska with her parents, Asia. At spring break they let Mikayela choose, picking China one year she got to dance on the Great Wall, England, France, Ireland, South America, Cuba 9 times, over 54 countries have been visited.
Recently Kim has added another achievement, saying in a social post, “Several people have messaged me asking about all the walking that I am doing? Here’s why… Last October I was very ill, and my GP discovered that I had undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes. I changed my lifestyle from that day forward. With Covid, it was impossible initially to see a dietician, so I relied on the internet and my brother to steer me in the right direction. With medication, new eating habits, and a lot of exercise and hard work, I have brought my daily blood sugars and a1c down to normal levels, and have lost 50 pounds. Finding a goal to keep me accountable, other than to have better health, was finding the Conqueror App, a fitness challenge. I have completed three challenges – the Camino de Santiago – 773.9 km, Mount Fuji – 74.4 km, and the Athens Marathon – 42.2 km. I now keep track of the intentional kilometres that I walk each day, and best of all…I FEEL SO MUCH BETTER! I am currently walking the North Coast 500, or Scottish Highlands which is 805.5 km.”
Congratulations Kim, you are simply amazing in how you have lived life and continue to do so. And congratulations to your husband and daughter who are pretty amazing in their own right. There is much love, respect and ambition within your small family and if you one day find yourself living back in your birth town I have no doubt that all that energy will be transferred to benefit Fernie.