Dr. Robert Heyding has an office on Eglinton Avenue. But the Leaside doctor’s practice transcends the boundaries of just one address.
In fact, he practises in various locations, often with clients who have no fixed address at all.
Citing his mother, Grace, as one of the greatest influences in his life, the doctor was introduced early on to a life of social justice action.
Grace founded Kingston’s version of Wheel-Trans. She visited the vulnerable in hospital and ran a swim program for people with special needs.
For four decades, Dr. Heyding has worked as a general practitioner instilled with the values his mom introduced.
On top of his GP duties, he also provides healthcare for the unhoused and for those experiencing addiction and mental health challenges.
In 1987, Joy Reid of 416 Drop-in Centre, which provides assistance for women with various challenges, contacted Dr. Heyding to ask if he would consider providing healthcare on-site.
Dr. Heyding did, and has been doing so, ever since.
In the early days, he saw many patients without OHIP. As he points out, “just because you’re not getting paid doesn’t mean it can’t be done.”
With word spreading of his successful work at 416, Dr. Heyding was then asked by Peggy Ann Walpole of Street Haven if he would offer his services there, too. Agreeing, he would often work at the 416 during the day and Street Haven in the evening.
His patience, compassion and empathy have not been reserved simply for patients in shelters and drop-in centres. Often, he will drive to see housebound patients. He visits people whose neighbours have called, worried about them. And he is a doctor who will see patients unable to find help from other practitioners.
One of those patients is the daughter of Leasider Patti Kinch. After her daughter, with multiple special needs, turned 18 and aged out of pediatric care, Kinch visited and was turned away by over a dozen doctors in the city.
Then Kinch approached Dr. Heyding, who, after listening to her story, agreed to accept her daughter into his practice. For her family, this was a moment of overwhelming relief.
Even though he told her he was about to retire, he’s been seeing Kinch’s daughter for 12 years.
“Dr. Heyding is one of those doctors you hear about in Reader’s Digest stories,” says Kinch. “Caring for his community, lending his hand to special projects like homeless shelters, and taking your phone calls immediately. He looks after so many of us and we are so grateful for him. He is one in a million.”
Dr. Heyding has seen those he’s helped in shelters get married, land jobs, and have children. And he has provided life-changing care for patients like Patti Kinch’s daughter.
While he’s helped so many and has always “enjoyed being able to help,” he points out very matter-of-factly, “I was taught to be a doctor and this is what I needed to do.”