THE GREAT ones all had their signatures: Wayne Gretzky's setting up behind the net, Bobby Orr's skating coast-to-coast. Canadiens captain Saku Koivu's signature is in room D5-129 of Montreal General Hospital—on the side of an $8 million PET scanner. Almost 8,000 cancer patients have used the diagnostic tool since Koivu's foundation raised $2.5 million toward its purchase in May 2004.
The Finnish center, who came to Montreal as a 20-year-old in 1995, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in September 2001, and he soon discovered that the only PET scanner in Quebec was 90 minutes away. He set up his foundation on Nov. 13, 2002, to rectify that. Says Koivu, "It's a pretty amazing feeling when you walk out after a test and hear the doctors and nurses comment about how many people go through the machine every day and what an impact it has."
The foundation—which recently committed $300,000 to upgrade the machine—has also proved inspirational. Rapha�l Leclaire, 17, suffered a recurrence of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma last fall, but even while undergoing chemotherapy, he raised $50,000 for the Koivu Foundation with a letter-writing campaign.
" Saku Koivu was an example—how he dealt with his cancer, the same one I had," Rapha�l says. His last PET scan was on Oct. 25. He was cancer-free.