Physicians, hospitality workers and neighbours spreading hope: Meet this week's Front-line Heroes

From physicians spreading hopeful messages on Facebook — and lessons learned from a previous pandemic — to a homeowner using holiday lights to brighten neighbours' spirits during a time of crisis, people in the GTA are finding their own ways to beat COVID-19. CBC Toronto wants to introduce you to these people through a series we’re calling, “Front-line Heroes."

Every day, CBC Toronto is introducing you to a new face on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic

Front-line Heroes is a CBC Toronto series giving a shout out to workers on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic across the GTA. (CBC News)

Every person has the ability to make a difference during the COVID-19 pandemic, a fact proven by this week's front-line heroes.

From family physicians spreading hopeful messages on Facebook — and lessons learned from a previous pandemic — to a homeowner using holiday lights to brighten neighbours' spirits during a time of crisis, people across the GTA are finding their own ways to beat COVID-19.

CBC Toronto wants to introduce you to these people through a series we're calling, Front-line Heroes.

Each day, we introduce a new face on our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages, giving the person a shout-out for their important work. At the end of the week, you can find their stories here.

We want to hear your stories, too.

If you'd like to tell us about your front-line hero, send us a video explaining why they're a hero to you. Or you can send a short description to Be sure to include a few photos of the person either way.

Dr. Anne-Marie Zajdlik

Dr. Anne-Marie Zajdlik is also the founding director of Bracelet of Hope, a charitable organization committed to ending the AIDS pandemic in the southern African country of Lesotho. (Anne-Marie Zajdlik/Facebook)

CBC Toronto received an email about Dr. Anne-Marie Zajdlik from Ann Adema, saying although she didn't know her, she wanted to recognize her for her daily positive posts on Facebook.

Zajdlik is a family physician and regional HIV specialist, and she says experiencing the height of the HIV/AIDS pandemic has given her a different perspective on COVID-19.

"I started posting to try to calm people's fears … and make them feel more resilient and confident," she said.

WATCH: Dr. Anne-Marie Zajdlik explains why she thinks we can beat COVID-19.

Lessons learned by this Guelph physician after working through a second pandemic

CBC News Toronto

11 months ago
Family physician and regional HIV specialist Dr. Anne-Marie Zajdlik says after battling the HIV/AIDS crisis, she's "very confident that we're going to be able to fight COVID-19." 1:55

Sahand Ensafi

Sahand Ensafi also creates patient education videos on YouTube, including one on common questions and concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Troy Campbell)

"Brilliant, hard-working, compassionate," are just some of the words used by Troy Campbell to describe his "mentor," Sahand Ensafi.

Ensafi is an emergency medicine physician assistant (PA) working in emergency departments at the University Health Network during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"While Sahand has been working with potential COVID-19 patients, he has also made sure that all other patients entering the ED are provided with the best possible care," Campbell said.

As the Ontario director of the Canadian Association of Physician Assistants, Ensafi has also worked to ensure PAs — who provide a broad range of medical services — are available in various regions of the province.

"Sahand has been a valuable asset and a strong member of the health-care community in this battle against COVID-19."

Dr. Thomas Dashwood

Dr. Thomas Dashwood is also raising awareness of the continued need for personal protective equipment (PPE) donations to hospitals from individuals and businesses, says his brother Kit Dashwood. (Submitted by Kit Dashwood)

Dr. Thomas Dashwood is a resident doctor of internal medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital.

"He always fights for the little guy, advocates for the marginalized, and is now fearlessly fighting COVID-19," said brother Kit Dashwood, who clangs pots and pans on his Fort York neighbourhood balcony each night to recognize his brother's contribution. 

"Even after he is done his long shifts, he will always have time to answer our family's questions, explain the situation, and offer advice."

WATCH: Kit Dashwood honours his brother in what's become a daily salute to health-care workers.

Fort York neighbourhood honours front-line workers by clanging pots and pans

CBC News Toronto

11 months ago
The 7:30 p.m. show of support started with a call from the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario to help honour essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. 0:27

Dino Ari

Dino Ari says he's also given free pizzas to people experiencing homelessness. (Dino's Wood Burning Pizza/Facebook)

Dino Ari, the owner of Dino's Wood Burning Pizza, says he's now given out more than 1,000 free pizzas to hospital workers, police officers and firefighters to help keep them fed as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. 

"We know it's a difficult time everyone's going through, and everyone is sacrificing," Ari said.

Ari has three locations in Toronto.

With rent to pay, Ari says the financial burden is getting hard to manage. He's seen huge demand for the free pizzas, so he had to put a limit on the orders. Still, he is willing to personally deliver a free pizza to hospitals in need.

"We should help each other." 

WATCH: Dino Ari explains how he thinks we can get through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why a Toronto pizza joint is handing out free food to front-line workers

CBC News Toronto

11 months ago
Dino Ari says he had to eventually stop allowing some orders because of high demand, but he will still deliver a pizza to hospital workers who request it. 0:48

Oya Muslu

Oya Muslu's partner is praising her for managing several cooks, servers and dishwashers throughout the COVID-19 crisis to keep long-term care residents healthy and fed. (Submitted by Hélène Kay)

Long-term care home residents are some of the most vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic and Oya Muslu is doing everything she can to help keep them healthy, says her partner Hélène Kay.

Muslu is a nutrition manager with Southbridge Care Homes working in Pickering, Ont.

"She is doing absolutely everything humanly possible to keep her 300-plus residents healthy and properly fed. Her staff is awesome, but Oya is juggling an ever-diminishing workforce and is working her magic to fill the gaps," Kay said.

"I can attest that she is indeed a force of nature."

Dr. Vanessa Zannella

Dr. Vanessa Zannella admits patients with COVID-19 into hospitals. (Submitted by William Silverstein)

Literally at the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Vanessa Zannella is one of the medical professionals admitting patients to hospitals in Toronto.

As a senior internal medicine resident physician, Zannella and her colleagues provide care to patients with a variety of illnesses, says her colleague William Silverstein.

"While all of my colleagues are fantastic and heroes of this pandemic, Vanessa is particularly special. This is because recently, one of the hospitals was in critical need for a resident to be on call," he said.

"Vanessa stepped up and volunteered without any hesitation. She is a compassionate physician who deeply cares for her patients, colleagues, and the system as a whole," Silverstein added.

Greg Smee

In the winter, Greg Smee adds several inflatables to his holiday display. (Submitted by Greg Smee)

Greg Smee is spreading joy at a time when positivity can be hard to find.

For the past two weeks, he's been turning on his Christmas lights every night "as a beautiful beacon of hope," says his neighbour Sharon Mah-Gin.

The lights come on at Smee's Willowdale home between 7 and 10 p.m., and in an email, he told CBC Toronto they would stay on until the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

"The sooner the better, as far as I'm concerned!"

Neighbour Sharon Mah-Gin says this is how Smee's house looks now at the beginning of spring. (Submitted by Sharon Mah-Gin)


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