Over the course of his 38-year career as a doctor in Steinbach, Paul Peters received many awards and accolades — including the 2021 Physician Emeritus Award from the Southern Health region.
But his family is seeking one final honour.
"As his family, we are certainly appreciative of the way the community has recognized our father’s contributions," said daughter MaryLou Driedger.
"But we would ask that if you really want to honour our dad and do something that would make whatever is left of his life just a little more positive and meaningful, that you get vaccinated."
In a column in the Dec. 9 edition of Steinbach Carillon, Driedger — a former educator, author and formerly a faith columnist at the Free Press — noted her father, now 93 and with dementia, is confined to a personal care home in Winnipeg, where he has limited outside contact.
"We have seen his dementia progress very rapidly over the last 18 months," she said, adding there was a three-month stretch during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when family couldn’t visit in person.
For more than a year, his children have only been able to see him one at a time, and then only as long as they are masked, wear face shields and keep socially distanced.
"That’s hard when he wants a hug or is crying," Driedger said through tears of her own. "It’s sad and it makes me angry to think this is being made worse by those who refuse to get vaccinated.
"My dad sacrificed so much of his life for others, serving people in the Southern Health region," she said of his work as chief of staff at Bethesda Regional Health Centre in Steinbach and as a founding partner of the Steinbach Family Medical Centre.
“But we would ask that if you really want to honour our dad and do something that would make whatever is left of his life just a little more positive and meaningful, that you get vaccinated.” — MaryLou Driedger
Many family parties, events and vacations were interrupted so he could attend to a medical emergency.
"I know some of the people who aren’t vaccinated are the ones he looked after," she said. "The least they could do is make a sacrifice to help him at this stage of his life."
By refusing to be vaccinated and prolonging the COVID-19 pandemic, those people "have made him a prisoner who can’t leave the personal care home," she said.
Reaction to the column has been positive, Driedger said, even if she knows it may not change many minds.
"I don’t know if it will convince anyone but I needed to get it off my chest," Driedger said, adding she heard from a former colleague who said the column "made him cry" and another person who saw a photo of her father in surgery wearing a mask.
"She said he wore a mask all those years to help others and wondered if he ever thought it was a hardship," Driedger said, noting there are many people in the Southern Health region today who resist wearing a mask, including when they go to church, because they find it uncomfortable.
"He masked up every day for them," she said of her dad, a longtime member of Grace Mennonite Church in Steinbach and now a member of Winnipeg’s Fort Garry Mennonite Fellowship.
Now, when she visits her dad, he sometimes asks what his purpose in life is. "Maybe this is it," Driedger said of the plea to get vaccinated on his behalf. "Maybe this story will resonate with them.
"Dad made so many sacrifices to serve the people of Southern Health. Could they get a vaccination for him?"
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.