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Tribute to a Toronto SARS nurse
Toronto was the only city in the world outside of Asia to suffer from the SARS outbreak. Toronto’s outbreak came in two stages. It’s experience with SARS was particularly severe when, after apparently overcoming an initial outbreak with stringent measures, SARS reappeared a second time before it was finally overcome. Toronto’s outbreak was essentially confined to health care institutions with the isolation of any person who was suspected of having contracted this highly contagious, unknown but deadly virus. The world community panicked and travel to Toronto was virtually frozen as the disease held centre stage in world headlines.

Even though patients who were suspected of contracting SARS were placed in isolation units, away from a panicked community, they were not isolated from the frontline healthcare workers. Canadian Nurses working in shifts around the clock had the duty to enter these isolation units to care for these patients. Nurses risking their lives to this unknown virus were not only caring for the patients, they were caring for the entire community of Toronto by their actions and saved Toronto from the spread of this deadly virus. Thanks, in large measure to their efforts, the disease did not spread throughout the community.


On Feb. 15, 2003, China reports 305 cases of atypical pneumonia (later classified as SARS). On Feb. 28, Sui-Chu Kwan, aged 78, goes to her doctor in Toronto complaining of fever, cough and muscle tenderness. She has just returned from a trip to Hong Kong. She is prescribed antibiotics and sent home. Five days later she dies. Eight days later her son dies of SARS at the Scarborough Hospital, Grace Division.

On March 17, Health Canada reports 11 suspected cases of SARS in Canada with nine in Ontario, one in B.C. and one in Alberta. A few days later, Hong Kong health officials announce that epidemiologists had traced the illness back to a professor from China who was staying at Hong Kong's Metropole Hotel. This is the same hotel where Sui-Chu Kwan contracted the disease and brought it home to Toronto. The Chinese community in Toronto becomes a ghost town.

The World Health Organization announces on March 22 that Toronto is an area of recent local transmission. The next day, Scarborough Hospital, Grace Division closes. On March 26, Ontario declares a public health emergency and orders thousands of people to quarantine themselves in their homes. A number of those quarantined for the mandatory 10 days are Nurses. Their families are increasingly shunned by the community fearing an early link in a seemingly inevitable community outbreak. By now, there were 27 probable cases of SARS in the province and visitors are barred from Toronto hospitals.

On March 29, Ottawa announces plans for screening departing passengers at Pearson International Airport. The next day, Public Health officials say that protective clothing should be worn by all hospital workers and this is followed by an order from the province to expand its SARS-related restrictions on Toronto hospitals to the rest of the province.

By April 1, the Canadian death toll reaches six and Ontario health officials begin mandatory quarantine orders. Within a week, four more people die in Toronto. Over the next two weeks another four people die.

At least four health-care workers at Sunnybrook Hospital show signs of SARS. The hospital also closes its critical care, cardiovascular intensive care and SARS units for 10 days. Ontario's chief medical officer of health wants doctors and nurses to wear full face shields, double gowns and double gloves as a precaution. The changes came after as many as 15 staff contract SARS while clearing the airway of a patient with the disease.

On April 23, WHO issues a travel ban to Toronto for all but essential travel. By April 26, the Toronto death toll reaches 21. Thankfully, the number of new cases slows to such an extent that 20 days pass without a case of local transmission. WHO lifts its travel ban. It appears that Toronto has won the battle against this deadly disease.

The victory was short lived when on May 24, 500 people are ordered into quarantine. Public health authorities confirm that they're looking at up to 33 new infections.

By May 26, approximately 2,200 people are quarantined in the Toronto region where there are 11 active probable cases and more than two dozen suspected cases of SARS. By June 1, the Canadian death toll has reached 30 - all in the Toronto area.

On June 13, Health officials in Ontario say they've likely found the link between the first and second outbreaks of SARS in Toronto. A woman was exposed to SARS on March 17 at Scarborough Hospital, Grace Division, the site of the original outbreak, passed it on to her daughter, who is a health-care worker at North York General. Officials believe the daughter passed it on to a 96-year-old patient while they were both on the same floor of the North York hospital. Within 10 days, the death toll has risen to 38.

On, June 30 a 51-year-old nurse, Nelia Laroza becomes Ontario's first health-care worker to die from the infection. The nurse worked at North York General Hospital, one of the centres hit by an outbreak of SARS. Then on July 19, a second Toronto nurse, age 58, Tecla Lin dies of SARS. She had treated patients at a medical centre in Toronto when she contracted the illness.

There have been no new reported cases of SARS in Toronto since the death of these Nurses. Toronto was saved.


Why did Nurses risk their lives? Why did they not panic like the rest of the world? It may be because of their professional character represented by a promise that they made when they first entered the profession. The "I Promise" poster was designed following the SARS crisis in Toronto as a tribute to the nurses who valiantly saved the City from the spread of this virus.

This 15" by 20" poster is available for purchase by sending $35.00 (includes taxes, shipping and handling) to the artist, Don Mayne, 49 Gloucester Street, Toronto, Ontario, M4Y 1L8. 

Further information can be obtained by email to
Photo of a framed poster
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