When jewellery designer Sassan Fazeli takes a coffee break, his dog Sukie has to come along. The petite pooch may look like a Bichon Frise, but her owner doesn’t take her to the salon for regular grooming, preferring instead to “let her be a dog.” But behind her ragamuffin exterior is a well-behaved and loyal pet. As Sassan opens the door of his office, Sukie lifts her eyes, waiting for him to nod his assent before she steps out. “She goes everywhere with me,” Sassan smiles. But it wasn’t always so.
They walk across the street to a loading dock beside St. Michael’s Hospital. “Wait here,” Sassan tells Sukie as he enters the hospital’s revolving door and into the Second Cup. She watches him from outside. Other customers murmur to one another, wondering if the dog is lost. Sassan turns to one of the concerned patrons, a middle-aged woman peering out at the dog. “I’ll call animal control,” he offers. As she stares back in disbelief, his eyes sparkle and she realizes he’s joking. He leans in, conspiratorially and admits, “She’s my dog.” The woman smiles, looking visibly relieved.
Now inseparable, it’s hard for Sassan to think about the difficult three-year period that he and Sukie were separated. “It was so hard – for both of us,” he acknowledges.
For years, Sassan felt a sensation like heartburn and sometimes felt out of breath. He brushed it off and continued cycling to work and camping, hiking and fly-fishing on weekends with friends. But over time, his chest pains became more severe. During one hike, Sassan’s entire group had to stop every two minutes and wait for him to recover. A fellow hiker encouraged him to see a doctor.
By spring 2010, Sassan was losing his breath more and more often. He stopped cycling to work and he could barely walk a block with his dog. Finally, fed up with the pain, he resolved to go to the Emergency Department at St. Michael’s and wait.
It didn’t take long for doctors to determine that Sassan needed emergency heart surgery to replace a leaking valve, or he would die. Despite the urgency and logic of their case, Sassan refused to sign the consent forms. He puts his fears in context: “I was afraid to get a needle. I had been receiving notices from the Canadian government to pick up my permanent resident card for over three years because I was scared of the immunizations I required first.”
Luckily, Sassan’s friend visited him at the hospital and convinced him to go ahead with the surgery and all went well. “All of the doctors, nurses, and staff at St. Michael’s were awesome. They were very professional and everything went so smoothly for me because of them. There was very little for me to do but get well,” Sassan recalls. Six weeks later, Sassan went home. It would take him another four months to recover fully. So why was he separated from his dog for three years?
All of the doctors, nurses, and staff at St. Michael’s were awesome. They were very professional and everything went so smoothly for me because of them. There was very little for me to do but get well. — Sassan Fazeli
This question gives him pause and he sits thoughtful for a moment. “It was entirely psychological,” he replies. “I feared that something else would happen to me and she’d be left alone without anyone to care for her. I guess the mind takes longer to heal than the body. I’m happy we’re together again.”
Sassan often runs into the doctors, nurses and hospital food service staff members who cared for him at The Second Cup. Every time he sees them, he thanks them again for saving his life. Is he active again? Yes, he was out fly-fishing with Sukie this past Sunday.