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Extended Rangers family provide major assists against COVID-19

Don’t call them face masks. They’re superhero capes.

That’s how incoming Rangers Chief Operating Officer and Governor Joe Birch characterizes Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

You see, his wife Katie is one of the thousands of nurses across the country who are keeping people safe during the current pandemic.

She has been stationed in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Toronto’s Mt. Sinai Hospital for the past decade.

“On a good day, it’s a high-stress job,” is how Birch described his wife’s work. “Now it’s different. I can see that it’s risen to an entirely different level,” Birch said. “You can imagine in a “normal” world the toll that it can take on your body – physically and mentally. And now, with the additional stresses of COVID-19, it’s really hard.”

While she hasn’t deviated from caring for premature newborn infants, having full PPE for everything they do, along with stricter safety protocols and measures, takes its toll.

“Our boys and I make sure that we give her the time she needs every day to have a workout or just some alone time to “escape” for a little bit,” Birch says. He adds, “some of the normal distractions that we both really enjoy, like attending yoga classes or going to the gym, obviously aren’t possible. We’re trying to be creative.”

Her dedication and commitment have reinforced his view on daily life too.

“Seeing what she’s been going through helps to put the work we do with the Rangers in perspective. It’s helped me to help realize that, when I think I’ve had a bad day, I haven’t really had a bad day – compared to Katie’s or her colleagues,” he said.

“We are really fortunate to get to work in hockey and really blessed to be in the working environment that we are, given what’s going on in the world today. All the frontline workers deserve an incredible amount of credit. The work they’re doing is really incredible.”

The same can be said for Director of Hockey Operations & Analytics Michael Zsolt’s wife, Meaghan. As a physiotherapist in another Toronto-based hospital, he describes his wife as working through “constant change and uncertainty.”

While she doesn’t work directly with patients afflicted with COVID-19, her co-workers are regularly being reassigned to different floors or areas and teaming-up with various colleagues.

“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind, even though it’s been a couple of months now. They’re still going through a lot of changes,” Zsolt said.

“She’s focused on doing her job as well as she can, though. She is the type of person who puts her hospital’s goals and mission before her personal preferences – such as needing to work later shifts or covering on the weekend. She’s there and happy to do that.”

During such an unprecedented time, he says he is proud of how she has faced the challenge. Having a dog to take out for social-distancing walks and dusting off the old Nintendo 64 has, admittedly, helped a little too.

“She’s courageous, and she and her colleagues have gone through a lot of adversity with the current pandemic,” he said.

It’s also been a bit of a roller-coaster ride for the team’s top two picks in this year’s OHL Priority Selection. For over 30 years, Andrew and Jacob LeBlanc’s mom Sheila has worked as a nurse; most recently with the vaccination team for Niagara Health. Since the start of the pandemic, her role shifted from travelling school-to-school, providing immunization needles to informing residents by phone that their COVID-19 test results have come back “negative.”

And while she didn’t miss her son’s names get called on draft day, shortly after, her sons began self-isolating with their grandparents in Wainfleet, about a 15-minute drive from their home in Port Colborne – simply due to the nature of her work. She would also work for the next 21 consecutive days, providing support for residents struggling with anxiety or mental health challenges. She only recently started getting some time off on weekends to see her family for dinner on weekends.

“It’s a big role in the sense that she’s able to help people get answers to the questions they might have during this pandemic and help put them at ease a little,” said Andrew. “You just have to hope and pray that this all goes away, but we’re both happy that she’s helping as much as she can.”

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