Obituary of Sandra Aylward
Dr. Sandra Elizabeth Aylward
It is with profound sadness that we announce the passing of Sandra (“Sandy”) Aylward on August 4, just a few weeks after her sixty-fifth birthday. Sandy was born in Toronto on July 13, 1952 to James Joseph Aylward and Margaret Aylward.
It was discovered that Sandy was born with a hole in her heart at the age of five when she accidentally stepped in front of an x-ray machine while her mother was being tested for tuberculosis. Much later in life, Sandy would discover through her own dogged research that she was among a small group of Canadian children to undergo an experimental heart surgery called hypothermia. At eight years of age, she was literally frozen to death, her heart stopped for the purposes of surgery, then resuscitated. The surgery caused a complete heart block and she was given five years to live.
Sandy would outlive this diagnosis many times over and would, in fact, counsel others with chronic illness. She wrote the following about her early years on her blog, My Unfailing Heart: “As a young adult, I reacted to my repeated death sentence by being rebellious, reckless and taking death defying risks. I left home and school at the age of 14, was homeless, addicted and spent time in jail. I was in the middle of my life before I decided I did not want to die. I had to learn how to have a full and happy life by facing death head on.”
Sandy would go on to receive a Ph.D in sociology from Laurier University. She taught research methodology, statistics, addictions and women’s studies at the University of Western Ontario. Her research provided tremendous academic insight into the history of the gender wage gap. Sandy was also instrumental in developing Heartspace, a community outreach program in London, Ontario for women who are substance-involved, pregnant and/or parenting young children.
At the age of fifty, Sandy was diagnosed with breast cancer. After overcoming that disease, she confronted a subsequent diagnosis of congestive heart failure, along with a brain aneurysm, with her usual grace and good nature, all while operating a successful research practice and writing for various publications, including Zoomer and The Globe and Mail.
In the end, Sandy’s heart never failed her. She was diagnosed with incurable cancer in March. Sandy and her family offer heartfelt thanks to friends who helped make those final months so memorable and peaceful, especially Raija Koski, Therese Chatelain, and Carl Finkle. Sandy’s physician for thirty years, Dr. Jo-Anne Hammond, continued to live up to Sandy’s billing as “medical superhero” until the very end.
Sandy is survived by her sister, Marva Mitchell, her nephew, Don Mitchell (Shelley Marmer) and her niece, Julie Mitchell (Derek Finkle), for whom Aunt Sandy was a towering mentor and irreplaceable friend. The beautiful, final act of Sandy’s life was her unwavering bond with her great-nephew, Charlie Finkle. They shared countless adventures and laughs, and her boundless happiness lives on in him.
Sandy died as she lived: on her terms, with deep spirituality and her gorgeous smile, surrounded by family and friends. A celebration of her life took place in the form of a 65th birthday party. Sandy did not want a funeral but she would love it if you made a donation in her memory to Heartspace through the Addiction Services of Thames Valley (http://adstv.on.ca/donate/).