Healthy hearts, a healthier community

A creative partnership between our Chief of Cardiology and a Flemingdon Park grocery store is making the community a healthier place to live

Dr. Mo Zia and Iqbal Malek Iqbal Malek with Michael Garron Hospital Chief of Cardiology Dr. Mohammad “Mo” Zia

Iqbal’s Halal Foods was founded 40 years ago. The Flemingdon Park grocery store is a destination for many South Asian newcomers seeking the flavours of home at affordable prices.

When founder Iqbal Malek began seeing Michael Garron Hospital Chief of Cardiology Dr. Mohammad “Mo” Zia for his heart, he learned a thing or two about his community’s health profile. By virtue of genetics and his South Asian descent, Iqbal was approximately four times more likely to die of a heart attack or stroke than a Caucasian Canadian. Factors such as low-income status and poor diet - realities for many of Iqbal’s customers - only worsen their odds.

Their community, Thorncliffe and Flemingdon Park - nestled between the east and west branches of the Don River and Eglinton Avenue - is a rapidly growing, multicultural neighbourhood that is home to more newcomers than anywhere else in the city. 40 per cent of residents live below the poverty line. It also has the highest rate of diabetes of any Toronto community and high rates of chronic illnesses like heart disease. A quarter of residents are children, compared to approximately 15 percent throughout the rest of the city. The neighbourhood’s health-care needs are great, and yet only about 20 per cent of residents have a family doctor. As a result, they often lack access to preventative health care and frequently end up in the hospital.

Iqbal and Mo began to think about how they could work together to make things better, and developed a plan for a healthy food aisle in the store. Today, in partnership with Michael Garron Hospital, Iqbal’s shoppers can choose from a wider variety of imported products such as whole grains, lower sodium alternatives, and other healthy choices. Mo now regularly speaks at community events in Thorncliffe and Flemingdon Park. Asymptomatic young people of South Asian descent are also finding their way to his clinic at Michael Garron Hospital so their cardiac health can be monitored.

“It’s just a creative way to think about the practice of medicine and prevention,” says Mo. “If I sit in my office and wait until someone presents with symptoms, often it’s too late.”

Mo is combining his medical expertise with local outreach to improve health outcomes in our neighbourhoods. It’s a program that could only come to pass at a community hospital like ours.

And it’s just one way Michael Garron Hospital is improving the health of Thorncliffe and Flemingdon Park through community outreach integrated with local social and community services. A new initiative, Health Access Thorncliffe Park (HATP) provides Thorncliffe residents with basic health-care services along with health promotion, family support, counselling, and other programs tailored to the needs of the community. As well, the Begin Right. Eat. Play. program - generously supported by a donation from the Lawson Foundation -  is engaging young families in healthier eating and lifestyle habits to tackle the high rates of type-2 diabetes in the area.

A donation to Michael Garron Hospital is an investment in the health of our entire community: because when people are healthy, they can live their lives to their greatest potential. Click here to donate today.