The Grip of Life: A little girl’s story of the miracles and failures of B.C. healthcare

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I want to tell you a personal story about our healthcare system.

My 4-year-old daughter, Athena, was born with a medical condition affecting her left hand. As a baby, she could not crawl or use her left hand. She required multiple surgeries at B.C. Children’s Hospital. Because of this condition, Athena’s ability to develop normally was difficult. We spent countless months helping her learn to walk early, educating her in sign language so she could communicate her frustrations, and working with medical staff to plan surgeries and recovery periods.

Athena’s fourth -and final – surgery took place during the same time I lost my job with the B.C. Conservation Officer’s service. Despite the immense stressful conditions, it was a good thing I was home for this time – some things are just meant to be.

The surgery took place a couple weeks before Christmas of 2015. Athena was 3 at the time, and developed a serious infection during post-operative care. A few weeks passed, no antibiotics were working, and no one could figure out what was going on. In the last week of December, Athena’s surgeon was on vacation for New Years and scheduled to return on January 7th. If the infection did not subside within the next week, we were told to be prepared for her hand to be amputated. We were devastated.

On January 1st 2016 Athena’s bandages were leaking heavily due to the infection. We brought her to the emergency at Children’s Hospital. The dressings were removed, and her hand was found to be in bad shape: bright red and hot, skin deteriorating, a large hole forming from damaged tissue, and stitches coming out due to swelling. I have seen many infections and injuries on the battlefield. But this was different, this was a little girl with her whole life ahead of her. The attending nurse looked at Athena’s file and the wound care instructions. Athena would receive a simple dressing change and wait another week for the surgeon to get back.

It was time to speak up

I put my foot down. I wanted a surgeon now, on New Year’s Day, to get down and listen to us. If something wasn’t done Athena would suffer for the rest of her life. The nurse said no. It was New Year’s and they would have to call someone in – we would have to wait for hours. Well, that’s what we did, and a surgeon was called in. A few hours later, a foreign exchange surgeon from South Africa saw Athena. I signed all the papers to deviate from her surgical plan. He stated he had seen infections like this before overseas and that most likely there was an infection under the skin.

He put Athena to sleep, reopened the wound, removed the abscess, cleaned Athena’s hand, dressed it fully in a silver infused lining, and gave clear instructions on care from now on. The abscess tested positive for staph infection.

Athena’s hand did heal. Although the scarring is substantial and the surgery did not work as expected because of the infection, Athena now has 90% use of her left hand. She will require a further surgery when she is a bit older. But for now, she is a beautiful little girl who is enjoying life and growing up to be, apparently, a spaceship driving animal doctor cookie baker.

More than just a statistic

People – children and seniors especially – are not just numbers. They are humans with feelings, dreams, and memories. I know what it is like to feel like the system is failing you and your loved ones. I know what it is like to want and cry for help. I know what it is like to feel as though all is lost. No one should ever feel this way about our healthcare.

I understand that some healthcare issues are extremely complex and that some parents and families are caught in emotionally devastating and unfortunate situations. If you are such a family, my heart goes out to you. As a politician, still helping my young daughter with her medical issues, what I want to ensure is that we are not selling out our quality of care. That we are maintaining compassion and empathy within our health services. I want to know that our health care is properly funded and staffed with competent individuals. I want people centered health policies and people centered funding models across the board. While our nurses and doctors are continually overworked and burdened with increasing patient numbers and while our hospitals move to private partnerships that are driven by corporate profit, I am left wondering if our government has lost its capacity to care.

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Showing 4 comments
  • Dave Matthews

    Yes, I’ll see you at the dinner Bryce. Thank you for Athena’s struggle and wishing her the very best. I almost faced the amputation of my left big toe in 2015 due to a paronychia infection but was saved with multiple antibiotics , the adverse effects of the meds still with me but, thankfully also, my toe.

  • Brian Giles

    From the heart. Well written Bryce, and an excellent reason for the political life. Go for it.

  • Peg

    I was lucky to meet Athena and your wife while walking my dogs in the Mine Rd field. What a little doll she was & your wife told me what was happening to that point. I am so happy that the surgery was mostly a success. She is a bright little one and will do well! Wishing you all luck health and happiness!

  • Kathleen Dawson Perry

    Very well written and very refreshing to see a politician with an education and one so willing to serve with empathy and compassion. Thank you. You give us hope for the future and this is a very good thing as without hope we may just give up.

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