Sick Ontario preschooler airlifted 350 km from home due to full local hospital
Published Monday, December 12, 2022 9:10PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, December 13, 2022 4:59PM EST
An Ontario mother says her son’s recent experience in Ontario’s packed pediatric health-care system has left her and her family terrified.
Last month, the Simcoe, Ont. mother’s four-year-old son, Remy, was airlifted to Kingston General Hospital – some 350 kilometres from home – following a near fatal-sepsis infection.
“When your kid gets a fever this is not where you expect to end up,” an emotional Stephanie Rutherford told CTV News Toronto in an interview.
Normally, Remy would have been rushed to McMaster Children’s Hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit (ICU) in Hamilton, Ont. for treatment, but it was full.
Doctors at the Rutherford’s local hospital, Norforlk General, originally thought the preschooler had a viral infection and sent him and his mom home with Tylenol and Advil.
But then things got worse.
“He was unable to roll over, feed himself, get to the washroom, complaining of neck pain, arms and legs were hurting he was complaining of a headache,” Rutherford said.
Rutherford called 911 and said local doctors realized he needed treatment in a pediatric ICU.
But with McMaster full, as well as the children’s hospital in London, Remy was flown to Kingston – the closest hospital with an available pediatric ICU bed at the time.
“They said if I had not called 911 when I did that he would be dead….Parents’ worst nightmare,” Rutherford recalled.
Remy was eventually diagnosed with Group A streptococcus, which often causes strep throat or scarlet fever. In rare cases, like Remy’s, it can develop into a sepsis infection which can lead to multiple organ failure.
Rutherford said his kidneys, pancreas, liver, and spleen were all affected as a result of the infection and his body blistered any time he needed an IV. He was placed on a ventilator and treated with antibiotics during his time in Kingston General, where he remains today.
Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones commented on the Rutherford’s experience, saying it is “not ideal” for any family to have a child treated that far away.
“But it is also important to appreciate that by doing that air transport, that child was able to be assessed and treated sooner,” she said.
Pediatric hospitals in Ontario have seen a spike in patients with respiratory illnesses in recent months, an issue that has been compounded by widespread staffing issues.
In statements provided to CTV News Toronto, both the Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre and McMaster Children's Hospital cited overcapacity concerns brought on by what the latter described as a “tripledemic.”
“The tripledemic our youngest patients are currently experiencing - that of RSV, COVID and other viruses - is taxing our capacity,” a spokesperson for McMaster Children's Hospital said in an email. “And this is also coming at a time when our health human resources are stretched thin. In some cases this has meant children and families have had to go far from home to receive care. “
More locally, in early November, Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children announced it was cancelling surgeries and redeploying staff to the ICU to address the surge.
In that case, the chief of critical care at Sick Kids, Dr. Steven Schwartz, said it was the right call.
“It literally saved lives,” he said in an interview with the Canadian Press published Monday.
For Rutherford’s part, she said she’s grateful to the doctors and health-care staff who are nursing her son back to health, but said she’s dismayed that her family and others were forced to be in this position.
“It was terrifying to be honest,” she said.
With files from Janice Golding and The Canadian Press