McGill dinosaur expert helps make cancer patient paleontologist for a day
By Neale McDevitt
In many ways, Damien Buckley is a typical 12-year-old boy – starting with his love of dinosaurs. But in another way, the Barrie, Ont. native is not at all like most little boys. Damien has T-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, an aggressive form of cancer.
So when the Make A Wish Foundation told him to pick a dream, any dream, what did Damien chose? He picked a dino date with McGill paleontologist Hans Larsson, a man he had recently seen in a documentary on dinosaurs while he was in the hospital undergoing treatment. Since that day, Larsson was on top of Damien’s list of people he most wanted to meet.
“It was very humbling,” said Larsson. “Damien could have gone to Disneyland – could have done anything – but he chose to spend the day talking shop with David and myself.” David is David Evans, curator, vertebrate paleontology (Dinosaurs) of the Royal Ontario Museum, holder of one of the world’s best dinosaur collections, and the logical place for these three dinosaur lovers to geek out over fossils.
Larsson and Evans gave Damien the VIP (Very Important Paleontologist) tour of both the Temerty Gallery of Dinosaurs and the Schad Gallery of Biodiversity. The gallery visits were followed by time in the lab, preparing new dinosaur material.
While the day was ostensibly to give Damien the chance to pick the brains of two of the nation’s leading dinosaur experts, Larsson and Evans quickly learned that, in many ways, they were the ones who had to keep up. “Damien really knew his stuff,” said Larsson, clearly impressed. “Not only did he know every dinosaur in the gallery, but he could tell us how big they were, how fast they moved, what they ate… He even knew a few that I didn’t know because they are no longer classified as dinosaurs.”
At one point, Damien was presented with a rack of mammoth bones and was given the task to identify what he was looking at. “He felt the ends of the bones and said ‘I don’t think they are dinosaur bones,’ because they were rounded, defined surfaces – typical of a mammal,” said Larsson. “Damien is incredible.”
And how did Damien enjoy the day? While he wasn’t available for an interview with the Reporter, during a T.V. interview he was asked to rate his day with Larsson and Evans on a scale from 1 to 10. “Eleven,” said Damien, with a smile that told the whole story.