A drama teacher at Vancouver’s Templeton High School, Jim has been instrumental in raising $3 million to transform the school’s theatre program, as well as developing film, theatre and TV programs for Vancouver’s at-risk youth.
Now 59, Jim has been recognized for his work with a Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence, a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal and a Motion Picture Production Industry Association of BC Community Builders Award.
It’s hard to believe that Jim has struggled with Crohn’s for 30-plus years. He credits his wife, an open mind, Mother Teresa and a regimented diet with helping him to stop playing the victim to this chronic, debilitating disease.
Diagnosed at 26 and married soon thereafter, Jim is eternally grateful for a wife who’s stuck with him. “Crohn’s and colitis, that’s not in the wedding vows,” he says, noting that he “fell into a depression for the first 10 or 15 years of our marriage.” He says, “My wife has been a real partner and made all the difference.”
This was in stark contrast to Jim’s friends, some of whom he says stopped socializing with him when he had to change his lifestyle, or worse, started giving him advice on how to cure his disease.
There was, and is, no cure. This was a difficult fact for Jim to get his head around. “The worst words you can hear from a medical professional are, ‘We don’t know how you got Crohn’s disease, and we don’t know if we can beat it, so get used to it.’ Yet, that is where we were in 1985.”
Jim wasn’t ready to accept defeat, and became someone willing to try anything to get better, including yoga, naturopathy, Catholicism and born-again Christianity.
He says he took something from every experience, but mostly benefited from a surgery in 1997 that removed four feet of his intestine and from strict adherence to a diet that includes no drinking, no smoking and only food that is “soft, white and bland” — not exactly easy for an Italian boy who grew up on a diet of big, hearty meals.
It was a quote from Mother Teresa that ultimately stemmed the tide of Jim’s depression: “It is difficult for the comfortable to comfort the afflicted unless the comfortable have been afflicted.”
Jim says that when he finally grasped the meaning of this quote his life changed and his teaching career took off. “It made me see that my gift is pain. I can reach kids who are broken because I know hurt. Sharing our pain opens the conversation.”
I can reach kids who are broken because I know hurt. Sharing our pain opens the conversation.
So, Jim has empathized with at-risk kids — and in the process accrued awards, kudos and the gratitude of hundreds of students and parents. Walking the high school hall with him is like walking with a celebrity. He is stopped every few feet by students and teachers calling him over to say hi or to ask questions. It doesn’t hurt that over the years, Jim has taught, run his after-school theatre program for at-risk youth and racked up acting credentials in hits like 21 Jump Street, Air Bud and The Outer Limits.
Along the way, Jim’s found himself angry at the world, depressed (he still sees a therapist), missed travel opportunities, lost friends and suffered a heart attack (the warning symptoms were at first mistaken as Crohn’s-related heartburn). But on the eve of his retirement from teaching, Jim says, “I look back and say, thanks, I did all right.”
Jim is hopeful that The IBD Centre of BC will help others do all right by providing care that treats the human first. He wants to see IBD patients receive the emotional and physiological support they need to overcome their mental and physical pain. “I want to see all my IBD brothers and sisters able to stop playing the victim.”