Going 'above and beyond' after devastating Ottawa tornado earns pharmacist kudos from patients and community
When the power went out at the Ottawa 181 Greenbank Rd Shoppers Drug Mart in the late afternoon of Friday, September 21, Associate Owner Kamlesh Gandhi, thought it odd, but not especially concerning. After all, power outages do happen from time to time.
But when he received an Environment Canada alert on his mobile phone just 15 minutes later, at 4:44 p.m., indicating a tornado in the area, everything changed. “We immediately made an announcement for staff and customers to find a safe place in the store away from windows,” he says.
“All of sudden I saw a twister, carrying with it plastic containers, uprooted trees, building material and other debris.” While it didn’t last long, he says, he was later astonished by what he saw.
As it was soon discovered six tornadoes – three in eastern Ontario and three in western Quebec – reached gusts of up to 265 kilometres per hour as they destroyed several houses, buildings and power lines. At their peak blackouts affected nearly 450,000 properties in the region.
The neighbourhood in which the pharmacy is located was hit hard. Besides damage to the front and back of the pharmacy, hydro poles had come down at the major intersection adjacent to the pharmacy, hitting a truck, which resulted in a blocked intersection and traffic chaos.
Some of the cars had extensive damage and drivers abandoned them in the street and sought shelter in the pharmacy. Others managed to drive their cars into the parking lot and ran into the pharmacy.
Staff sprung into action and provided blankets for those who had come in seeking refuge. "One of those was with their elderly father – their car windshield had been smashed,” says Kamlesh. "Another came in with a little bit of bleeding and the staff performed first aid.”
Once the storm had passed and customers and staff began making their way back to their families, Kamlesh remained at the pharmacy where he continued serving his patients, including one who he knew might be in that evening to pick up a prescription, and prepared prescriptions for Saturday pick-up.
But there was a hiccup: Because of the downed hydro poles the surrounding streets were closed and the pharmacy was only accessible by foot. Kamlesh even had to walk in. “If I couldn’t get to the store easily, how could patients get their prescriptions, especially in a neighbourhood where 65 per cent of them are elderly?”
The answer: bring the pharmacy to the patient.
The next day, after installing emergency lights, Kamlesh and staff hit the streets, going home-by-home and street-by-street, to deliver their patients’ medications. "It was sobering", says Kamlesh. “Some of our patients had lost their homes, others had extensive damage to them. By then, some of them had moved to be with family and friends and were harder to locate.”
One patient, Glenn Johnson, a real estate professional in Ottawa who has been a patient at the pharmacy for 11 years, was astounded to find his pharmacist at his doorstep with his medication.
“It was pretty amazing when I saw Kamlesh at the door. We were still in shock following the tornado and I was distressed that I was out of my medication. We had no phones and I had no idea what to do. I’m still overwhelmed and emotional just thinking about it. Kamlesh is like family.”
So taken with the extraordinary service, Johnson took to Facebook to express his thanks, posting “Shoppers Drug Mart owner/pharmacist Kamlesh Gandhi goes above and beyond by bringing my week’s worth of medication to our house after the tornado.”
Ottawa’s Kristen Douglas also posted on Facebook to say: “Over the weekend the owner of the pharmacy was delivering prescription drugs to those patients who had not been able to come in when he knew their supply would run out! Kamlesh Gandhi is one of the many heroes of this event!”
However, Kamlesh takes all the accolades in stride, saying, “I’m just doing my job.”
"Although the store was five days without power, we were able to keep the doors open for emergency purposes, he adds. "We made sure our patients got their medications and the support they needed. It’s really that kind of personal service that keeps our patients in our community coming back again and again."