Friends seek help for 'heroic' Edmonton man diagnosed with brain tumour

Friends of Riza Kasikcioglu are asking Edmontonians for help as he recovers from brain surgery.

Riza Kasikcioglu ran into a burning building in January to help get people out

Riza Kasikcioglu recovering from his brain surgery in December. (Sim Senol/Supplied)

Riza Kasikcioglu has been a local Edmonton hero ever since he risked his life in January by sprinting into a burning apartment building to warn people of the fire.

But now, friends of Kasikcioglu are asking Edmontonians for help maintaining his restaurant as he takes six months to recover from brain surgery.

Kasikcioglu ran into the apartment building on Jasper Avenue and 118th Street in January, knocking on as many doors as he could to help people escape before the fire department had arrived. One person died and another was injured while hundreds were temporarily displaced from their homes.

Months later, Kasikcioglu was working in his restaurant, Maximo's Pizza and Donair, when he started feeling nauseous.

He dropped everything and went to the nearest medical clinic, where he learned that his flu-like symptoms were actually an indication of a brain tumour.

"We were prepared for the worst," his friend Sim Senol said. "When you hear the words 'brain tumour,' you think it's a death sentence."

Fortunately for Kasikcioglu, his doctors told him the tumour was benign, but it still had to be removed to avoid any further complications.

The surgery went well. Kasikcioglu is talking and Senol said his cognitive abilities and motor skills are returning to normal. Since Kasikcioglu had to close his business while he recovers from surgery, his friend started a GoFundMe to raise money.

Kasikcioglu is expected to be discharged from the University of Alberta's neurosurgery unit by the end of the week and will continue to recuperate at home, surrounded by his wife and two young sons.

"This is our Christmas miracle," Senol said.

'He is an everyday hero'

Maximo's Pizza and Donair was in dire financial straits before Kasikcioglu was taken to hospital. The closure of a nightclub upstairs removed one of his biggest sources of late-night customers.

Senol found out about Kasikcioglu's financial woes from his wife while he was in the emergency care unit. So Senol decided to put together a team of volunteers to renovate the restaurant.

"He's important to us because we know that act of selflessness ... was not a one-time thing. He's always been this giving person," she said. "He's an everyday hero."

The team of 10 volunteers are mostly from the Turkish Canadian Society, where Kasikcioglu volunteers.

The volunteers will begin renovations Wednesday morning. They have a lot of work ahead of them, including replacing old lights, relining tiles on the walls, painting the entire restaurant and replacing photos of donairs with more appealing decor.

"Random people just hearing about Riza's story just get touched," Senol said. "I think everyone wants to help in any way they can."

All of the money raised will go to the family for medical and personal expenses while her friend recovers, said Senol. 

Restaurant will be dedicated to Edmonton heroes

As soon as Senol told Kasikcioglu about her idea to renovate the restaurant, the man chimed in with his own ideas.

One of Kasikcioglu's suggestions was to re-name the restaurant "Heroes," not because of his brave actions during the fire, but to dedicate the restaurant to all the everyday heroes in Edmonton.

At the back of Maximo's Pizza and Donair is a long hallway, where pictures of some of Edmonton's most famous people will be hung.

Senol said she will be reaching out to Edmontonians like Mayor Don Iveson, Coun. Andrew Knack and even Wayne Gretzky starting early Wednesday morning to get them on board with the project.

With the city looking to develop Jasper Avenue, Senol said making the restaurant a landmark can serve everyone's goals.

"We see this donair shop of Riza where you know he's the example of a struggling businessman … we can turn his little donair store into an Edmonton icon," she said.