Heart pro­ce­dure can­celled

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - LICIA CORBELLA Licia Corbella is a Post­media opin­ion colum­nist is Cal­gary. lcor­bella@post­media.com

On April 16, Jerry (Ched) Dunham was told by a nurse at his Al­berta doc­tor’s of­fice that a pro­ce­dure to get a de­fib­ril­la­tor for his rac­ing heart would not be go­ing ahead be­cause of COVID-19.

Dunham re­mained wait­ing for 45 min­utes to hope­fully see his doc­tor, to plead with him to get the pro­ce­dure done, to no avail. His doc­tor was “too busy” to see him, he was told, even though it was a sched­uled ap­point­ment and no other pa­tients were seen com­ing in or out of the of­fice.

While he waited he wrote an im­pas­sioned post on his Face­book page.

“I was ba­si­cally told that the gov­ern­ment is will­ing to risk my life to save my life,” he wrote.

“Let me say that again, my gov­ern­ment told me they’re will­ing to let me die, which ac­cord­ing to them is for my own safety ...”

Prophetic words. Within two months, on June 7, the tal­ented mu­si­cian and fa­ther of two young daugh­ters died at the Medicine Hat Re­gional Hos­pi­tal, with his dev­as­tated fam­ily by his side. He was just 46 years old.

Dunham, who had toured around the country as a bass player with var­i­ous bands, suf­fered a car­diac ar­rest on May 30 and was de­prived of oxy­gen to his brain. A fam­ily mem­ber wrote a long paper trail ad­vo­cat­ing on be­half of Dunham and his des­per­ate need for surgery but never re­ceived the cour­tesy of even one re­ply.

Eigh­teen months ear­lier — the de­voted dad of six-year-old Atlin and Rey­dian, who turned nine just two days af­ter Dunham died — couldn’t catch his breath. A fit and strong con­struc­tion worker who played hockey most of his life, Dunham was liv­ing and work­ing in Palmerston,

Ont., a town of just 2,500 peo­ple about an hour’s drive north­west of Kitch­ener, where his for­mer spouse and their chil­dren live.

He was even­tu­ally di­ag­nosed with con­ges­tive heart fail­ure and was told at that time that he might need a heart trans­plant but in the mean­time they were go­ing to do some test­ing, put him on med­i­ca­tions and would even­tu­ally fit him with a de­fib­ril­la­tor af­ter they did a bunch of tests.

“So six months later or so, time for surgery and boom, all non-es­sen­tial surg­eries post­poned,” he wrote on his Face­book page.

“Heart surgery, ap­par­ently con­sid­ered non-es­sen­tial. Now I know some say that’s non-es­sen­tial, but it’s pretty god­dam es­sen­tial to me. Now I’m told today pos­si­bly could be a year or two?

“So what I’m just sup­posed to kiss my ass good­bye? I’m start­ing to freak out here. Won­der­ing what I should do?” he asked.

More than 100 alarmed friends com­mented, urg­ing him to con­tact the me­dia. Now his “soul friend,” Krista Lam­bier — the mother of his beloved daugh­ters — is the one talk­ing to the me­dia.

“I vowed to him on his death bed — with our daugh­ters sob­bing for their daddy to wake up — that his death would not be in vain. I promised him that,” said a weep­ing Lam­bier, who is stay­ing with his dev­as­tated par­ents, Karen and Ger­ald Dunham un­til next week.

Af­ter Dunham was di­ag­nosed with his se­ri­ous heart is­sues, doc­tors in On­tario re­scinded his spe­cial com­mer­cial driver’s li­cence that al­lowed him to op­er­ate large trucks and equip­ment. De­spite ev­ery­one’s best hopes, the med­i­ca­tion he was pre­scribed did not reg­u­late his heart and with­out work “he lost ev­ery­thing he worked so hard for” — his home, his truck and ul­ti­mately his com­mu­nity, says Lam­bier, 42.

He ended up mov­ing back to his par­ents’ home in Red­cliff, a town just a 10-minute drive north of Medicine Hat.

“We’re all al­ter­nat­ing be­tween feel­ings of pro­found sad­ness, dis­be­lief and total rage,” ad­mit­ted Lam­bier, whose friends have started a Go Fund Me page for her daugh­ters. “How many peo­ple have died on wait­ing lists for surg­eries in hos­pi­tals that are empty and have no pa­tients in them?” she won­dered. “How many have had their health de­te­ri­o­rate beyond re­pair? Why couldn’t each prov­ince have left some hos­pi­tals open to deal with es­sen­tial surg­eries and sick­ness un­re­lated to COVID?”

Those are all valid ques­tions that many of us have pon­dered. It would have been the wise thing to do, but as they say, hind­sight pro­vides per­fect vi­sion.

It’s es­ti­mated that about 200,000 surg­eries and other pro­ce­dures — in­clud­ing can­cer and heart surg­eries — have been can­celled as hos­pi­tals were read­ied for a pos­si­ble del­uge of COVID-19 pa­tients.

Mod­el­ling in On­tario es­ti­mated can­cel­la­tion of elec­tive heart surg­eries would re­sult in more than 30 deaths by early May.

On Mon­day, a spokesper­son with Al­berta Health wrote in an­swer to Post­media ques­tions: “All ur­gent, emer­gency and can­cer surg­eries have been avail­able through­out the pan­demic. Al­ber­tans who need ur­gent surgery will get it. AHS has in­di­cated that they are not aware of any deaths due to can­cel­la­tions of sched­uled surg­eries.”

Lam­bier says when she and her girls flew out from On­tario to be with Dunham both girls were con­vinced that the sec­ond their dad — “who was crazy about them” — heard their voices, he would wake up. “When they saw him they were ab­so­lutely crushed,” re­calls Lam­bier, cry­ing.

“Our old­est, Rey­dian, got up on the bed, hug­ging her dad, beg­ging him, ‘Please Daddy, please Daddy, come back to us. Please Daddy. It’s Rey­dian.’”

The youngest daugh­ter rocked back and forth on the floor, hug­ging her knees, sob­bing. She, too, even­tu­ally got up to hug her dad good­bye.

Af­ter he was taken off the ven­ti­la­tor, a doc­tor told them he would pass away within min­utes or hours. He lasted two-anda-half days be­cause his body re­mained strong. He was a young man who needed help with his heart.

He spent more time in in­ten­sive care as a re­sult of hav­ing a heart at­tack that was pre­ventable, than he would have re­ceiv­ing a de­fib­ril­la­tor.

His mother Karen, 63, says her son was such a lov­ing, car­ing per­son who de­served bet­ter.

“The sys­tem failed him,” she said Mon­day evening. “I just don’t un­der­stand how a heart can be called non-es­sen­tial. You can’t live with­out a prop­erly func­tion­ing heart.”

Lam­bier says over the days she spent at Dunham’s side, one nurse told them they could take off their masks.

“As far as I’m con­cerned,” the nurse said, “this is a fake pan­demic. The hos­pi­tal’s al­most empty.”

Later, Lam­bier was asked if the fam­ily wanted his death to be recorded as a COVID-19 death.

“I said, ‘No. He tested neg­a­tive for COVID-19. That’d be a flat out lie.’”

As for Dunham, he apol­o­gized to his Face­book friends. “Sorry for the rant folks, just frus­trated that the gov­ern­ment gets to de­cide who lives or dies ... I’m will­ing to get sick and live than die and not get sick ...”

Jerry Dunham, 46, was a bass player who toured with bands. He died in hos­pi­tal from heart fail­ure in Medicine Hat af­ter a pro­ce­dure to in­stall a de­fib­ril­la­tor was called off as a re­sult of the COVID-19 lock­down. His for­mer wife Krista says he was de­voted to their daugh­ters, Rey­dian, now 9 and Atlin, 6.

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