Our Board of Directors makes a significant contribution to the Institute. Their dedication ensures that we continue to adhere to strict governance and guidelines for nonprofits operating in Canada.
Their passion for Praxis’ vision — a world without paralysis after spinal cord injury — translates into improvements in the lives of Canadians with SCI.
Ben Almond (Chair) CEO, EDPM Canada, SNC-Lavalin
BenAlmond joins SNC-Lavalin from Jacobs where he was the Regional Managing Director. Ben is a highly accomplished, results-oriented professional with a demonstrated background of effective, proactive leadership. Empowering and enabling teams to succeed, he drives accountability on commitment. Ben fosters excellence within interpersonal relations through liaison with executive teams and promotes and achieves high standards through strategic planning initiatives. He has overcome professional and personal challenges, including a life-changing accident in 2005 while proving himself as an inspirational leader with a strategic vision. Ben, holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering from the University of Manitoba, was the recipient of Canada’s Top 40 under 40 Award.
Ms. Toor is a senior financial executive with over 20 years of experience in both private and public companies (NASDAQ and TMX-listed), including high-growth and startup stage organizations. Ms. Toor most recently served as the Chief Financial Officer of a public cannabis company. Prior to that, Ms. Toor was the Vice President, Finance of a private, clinical stage biopharmaceutical company where she played a key role in multiple equity and debt financings, including a US$25 million equity investment.
During her career, Ms. Toor has held various senior finance positions including Interim Finance Director of a not-for-profit organization and Corporate Controller of a public pharmaceutical company. Ms. Toor excels in strategy execution, shareholder value creation, and risk management. Ms. Toor began her career with KPMG performing audit, tax and accounting work for major clients. Ms. Toor is a Chartered Professional Accountant, Chartered Accountant (CPA, CA) and holds a Bachelor in Business Administration degree from Simon Fraser University in Canada.
Richdeep Gill (Secretary) Minimally Invasive Upper Gastrointestinal & Bariatric Surgeon Assistant Professor of Surgery, University of Calgary, Peter Lougheed Hospital
Dr. Richdeep (Richi) Gill is a Gastrointestinal & Bariatric Surgeon practicing in Calgary. Clinically he focuses on medical and surgical management of obesity. His research interests are in the management of obesity-related comorbidities with both medical and surgical treatment. He is currently the assistant program director for the Calgary general surgery residency program.
Jeremy Abitbol Vice-President, Client Wealth Management, Gluskin Sheff + Associates Inc.
As part of the Client Wealth Management team, Jeremy Abitbol focuses on client relationship management, portfolio and risk management, and business development of private and institutional clients. Prior to joining Gluskin Sheff in 2015, Jeremy was an Analyst at CI Financial and prior thereto, was part of the Client and Advisor Services group at CI Investments.
Michael Beattie Professor of Neurological Surgery, Co-Director, Brain and Spinal Injury Center, University of California, San Francisco
Dr. Beattie received his Ph.D. from Ohio State University in 1977, where he stayed on to become the founding chair of the Department of Neuroscience in 1999. He and his wife and colleague, Jacqueline Bresnahan, joined the University of California, San Francisco in 2006. He is currently Co-Director and Director of Research for the Brain and Spinal Injury Center (BASIC) in the Weill Institute for Neurosciences and Department of Neurological Surgery at UCSF.
His interests are in the cell biology of CNS injury and repair, and preclinical and clinical neurotrauma research. He has authored more than 140 peer-reviewed publications and has served on multiple editorial and NIH and other review panels. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) and the Praxis Spinal Cord Institute, and a member of the NIH CNNT study section. He and Dr. Bresnahan are the recipients of the 2012 Reeve-Irvine Research medal for excellence in spinal cord injury research.
Benveet “Bean” Gill Public Speaker, Model Of Diversity, Wheelchair Pageant Queen, Entrepreneur
Benveet “Bean” Gill’s story serves up a dose of reality like you’ve never heard before. In her 20s, Gill was working as an X-ray technologist in a cardiac catheterization lab. But, in 2012, when she turned 30, everything changed. She left an abusive relationship, her dad left her family and, during vacation, a virus paralyzed her from the waist down. While relaxing in a hotel room with close friends, she felt a sudden, stabbing pain in her spine. “The pain lasted only a few minutes, and then I couldn’t move my right leg. I was paralyzed within 10 minutes.”
Multiple neurologists told Gill a virus was likely to blame, and she would regain full use of her legs within weeks. After several months of no progress, Bean was forced to come to grips with her new reality. A once athletic young woman who enjoyed modeling, kickboxing, and weightlifting, she struggled with betrayal by her own body. She couldn’t roll over, sit up, or get out of bed without help. She was forced to find her way through an inaccessible society, all the while living with paralysis and learning how to love herself – disability and all.
“My life was flipped upside down. I hated everything about me. I hated my life.”
Bean took her health into her own hands, seeking out the answers and help she needed to confront her challenges head-on. Eventually, Gill found her confidence again. She worked to regain movement in her legs and pushed herself to try sports she never would have attempted before being paralyzed. If it wasn’t for the worst year of her life, Gill wouldn’t be who she is today. Bean’s sudden onset of paralysis opened her eyes to the many injustices, inequalities and challenges that are a part of life for those with disabilities. She went from dealing with a new identity of life in a wheelchair to using her situation as a platform to help others.
In 2017 she co-founded ReYu Paralysis Recovery Center – a non-profit she started with her Neuro-Exercise Specialist and zero capital. The wellness center exists to inspire, motivate, and promote recovery with increased function for individuals with spinal cord injuries and associated neurological disorders. “We show them that they can do the things that they were told they were never going to do.”
Being a woman of colour who also has a visible disability, Gill is an example of unwavering strength and resilience. By confronting adversity and sharing her story, Bean Gill breaks down barriers and is changing the stigmas surrounding people with disabilities. Gill’s work has earned her local and national recognition, including Top 40 Under 40, RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award, and Global’s Woman of Vision Award. Bean is the reigning Miss Wheelchair Canada and was recognized by Mattel as one of Canada’s top 60 inspiring women as part of Barbie’s 60th Anniversary.
Joel Dembe Senior Manager, Corporate Communications RBC Accessibility And Diversity Expert, 5-Time Canadian National Wheelchair Tennis Champion, Paralympian And Public Speaker
Joel Dembe is a Paralympian and strategic communications advisor. He was Canada’s top-ranked wheelchair tennis player and won over 30 international titles throughout his career. Joel represented Canada at the Paralympics and won the country’s first international medal in wheelchair tennis at the 2015 Toronto Pan-American Games, shortly before retiring from the sport.
He currently serves as a Senior Communications Manager and is also co-Chair of RBC Reach, an advisory group for clients and employees with disabilities. Joel is a frequent media contributor, keynote speaker and writer, where he advocates for accessibility and inclusion.
He was recently named to the Emerging Leaders under 40 list by the Canadian business news publication, The Peak, recognizing leaders making an impact in their field.
David Estrada, JD Program Manager at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital
David Estrada is the Program Manager for New England Regional Spinal Cord Injury Center at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, Research & Development Coordinator for studies and programs for persons with disabilities. Former recruiter of elite athletes with disabilities from around the world who competed in the Boston Marathon. Has experience in all aspects of event planning, fundraising, development, human resources, public relations and communications. Has experience with disability awareness, advocacy, consulting, mentoring and empowering individuals through education, self-advocacy & physical fitness.
Over 25 years of experience in the criminal justice field, specifically in media relations with the Boston Police Department. Experience managing WordPress blog & website, Facebook, and Twitter accounts with over 500,000 followers. VP Board member of 501(c)(3) non-profit providing programs & services to persons with spinal cord injury/disease. He is a member, Board of Advisors for Massachusett’s first Legal Incubator & Justice Bridge. Licensed attorney, real estate broker & entrepreneur.
Dr. Kim Anderson-Erisman, PhD Staff Scientist, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Metrohealth Professor, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, CWRU Associate Director, Institute for Functional Restoration, CWRU Investigator, Cleveland FES Center
Dr. Anderson-Erisman is a Professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the MetroHealth Medical Center and Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) School of Medicine. Her research has focused on translational investigations and bridging the gap between basic science, clinical science, and the public community living with spinal cord injury (SCI). Her training spans the spectrum of SCI research, from cellular and molecular studies, to whole animal and behavioral studies, to human clinical research. Several of her studies have focused on obtaining the perspective of people living with SCI on various aspects of research, including functional priorities, acceptable benefits and risks, preferences for neuroprosthetics, and exercise participation. She has expertise in SCI outcome measures and has conducted a multi-center clinical study evaluating the reliability and validity of the Spinal Cord Independence Measure in the US healthcare setting.
In addition to pursuing her own research regarding chronic injury, she was part of the leadership team running the 6 FDA-regulated Schwann cell transplantation clinical trials while a faculty member at the University of Miami. At MetroHealth-CWRU she is continuing her leadership in clinical trials for SCI and further developing her independent research efforts addressing issues important to people living with SCI with an emphasis on translational research to deploy treatments to the clinic. She is currently the Director of the Northeast Ohio Regional Spinal Cord Injury Model System of Care. She was also a co-founder and the inaugural President of the North American Spinal Cord Injury Consortium.
Peter Guo Partner, BC Enterprise Risk Services, MNP
Peter Guo leads the Enterprise Risk Services practice in British Columbia. Based in a Vancouver office, Peter provides risk management, consulting and assurance services to private and public organizations.
With 25 years of experience, Peter is comfortable in the boardroom and on the shop floor. He has delivered assignments involving governance, risk management, people, systems and processes, as well as regulatory compliance, enterprise risk, internal audit, IT audit, business process controls, privacy, IT threat and risk assessments and third-party control reports (CSAE 3416, SSAE16).
Prior to joining MNP, Peter was a partner at a Big Four firm, where he led the Systems and Process Assurance and Controls practice in B.C. He has developed and executed methodologies in CEO/CFO certification and project risk management and governance. With risk and controls expertise in large transformational projects, Peter provides clarity, recommendations and practical solutions to executive and board stakeholders in complex IT implementations, business process improvement initiatives, post-merger synergies, operational cost reductions and systems conversions.
A Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA, CA), Peter is a designated specialist in IT and IT audit (CITP, CISA). He holds the Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA), Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC), Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP), Associate Business Continuity Professional (ABCP), and certified Board Director (ICD.D) designations.
Sean Gjos Vice President, SaNOtize Research and Development
Sean Gjos is the Vice President of SaNOtize Research and Development. Previously, he founded a mental health clinic and was a Partner with a private equity firm, where he helped healthcare service companies navigate the challenges of growth. Sean is also the honorary chairperson for SCORE Fund, a non-profit that assists people paralyzed while participating in sports.
Jauvonne Kitto Chief Executive Officer & Co-Founder Saa Dene Group Of Companies
As a member of Saa Dene executive team, her role is to set the strategic vision and manage the daily operations of the companies. Prior to that, she was an Executive Director at Fort McKay First Nation and was responsible for corporate and community governance, administration, health and human services, communications, stakeholder, public and corporate relations and as a management consultant.
Ms. Kitto has over 20 years of combined executive management, economic development, regulatory matters, crisis and risk management and governance experience. Her career has spanned work in the public, private, government and non-profit sectors. Specializing in guiding organizations to operate more efficiently and profitably by focusing on the spectrum of challenges that business leaders and governments face – from long-range strategic planning and is the critical day-to-day business matters.
Throughout her career, Ms. Kitto has been a mentor with a particular focus on supporting working women. She is actively involved in her community and currently serves as an advisor, a board of director on several for-profits and not-for-profits and several non-partisan organizations such as the Information Communications Technology Council (ICTC) and the Calgary Housing Company – provides safe and affordable housing solutions for families. She is recognized for her commitment as a board advisor for KidSport and her passion for All Kids Should Play, and no child should be left on the sidelines; a member of the Forbes Business Council, Energy Council of Canada and the Business Council of Alberta.
Nava Swersky Sofer Innovation & Commercialization Expert Co-Chair, Directors Leading Change
Nava Swersky Sofer is a frequently-invited speaker in leading international forums on innovation, entrepreneurship, venture capital and technology transfer, with over 30 years of international experience living and working in three continents. She is a member of the Board of Directors of IMI Systems – Israel Military Industries, the Board of Governors of the Ruppin Academic Centre and a mentor at the IBM Alfa Zone accelerator (Israel) and the Nanjing Microsoft Incubator (China). Most recently she was the founding Managing Director of IDC Beyond, IDC Herzliya’s presidential program to create innovative ventures that apply exponential technologies to solve 21st-century global challenges. She is often quoted on Israeli innovation models, including in the best-selling book “Start-Up Nation”.
In addition, she is President & Chairperson of the Toronto-based International Commercialization Alliance, Founder of NanoIsrael, the international nanotechnology conference & exhibition, an adviser to the Israeli government on innovation and international R&D collaborations and an adviser to the United Nations’ World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) on innovation. She is the Israeli delegate to OECD’s Business & Industry Advisory Council (BIAC) nanotechnology committee and development/innovation network and a board member of Rome-based INSME, the International Network of Small & Medium-Sized Enterprises and the Brussels-based Knowledge Economy Network. Ms. Swersky Sofer holds a law degree from Tel Aviv University, an MBA from IMD International in Lausanne, Switzerland and diplomas from the Sorbonne (Paris), the Goethe Institute (Munich) and the Instituto Trentino (Italy). She is a member of the Israel Bar Association, the youngest ever to have been admitted, and a retired Captain in the Israel Defence Forces.
Dr. Ian Walker, FMC Emergency Physician, Foothills Medical Centre and Rockyview Hospital, Calgary
Ian Walker is an emergency physician in Calgary, Alberta. He has previously served as Director of Admissions for the Cumming School of Medicine and as Chief of Emergency Medicine at Foothills Medical Centre. Currently, he is the Medical Director for EMS in Calgary and a member of the council of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta, where he serves as Chair of the Medical Facilities Accreditation Committee.