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As COVID inundates hospitals, Alberta mother urges vaccinations after son’s surgery delayed

Rising COVID-19 hospitalizations is causing surgical delays, as her son needs emergency brain surgery
The Mathieu family - Audrey, Sara, Jean and Zav. Photo courtesy Sara Mathieu.

A Calgary mother whose son needs emergency medical care is pleading for people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to relieve the pressure on Alberta’s health care system.

Sara Mathieu issued the call for vaccinations last week, through a poignant social media post, describing the emergency brain surgery her four-year-old son, Zav, needs, but cannot immediately receive, due to Alberta’s worsening COVID-19 situation.

Mathieu is urging people to get vaccinated in order to relieve the pressure on Alberta’s hospital staffing resources and infrastructure.

“It is the number one way to prevent this illness from bogging down our system and protecting our community,” she said.

As of Tuesday, Sept. 28, Alberta reported 20,513 active cases of COVID-19 and 1,100 hospitalizations, 263 of which are in intensive care and an overall ICU occupancy of 318. Alberta also reported that 83.2 per cent of its citizens 12-plus have at least one vaccine dose, while 74 per cent of those 12-plus are fully vaccinated.

Mathieu, who grew up in Cranbrook, said the escalating number of hospitalizations and ICU admissions due to the pandemic is causing medical staff redeployment and less available operating room time.

Those redeployments are further delaying surgery for her son, who is living with hippocampal sclerosis, the most common form of medication-resistant epilepsy, and has been navigating treatment through the Alberta Children’s Hospital, but is currently at home on medication.

While diagnosed with epilepsy as an infant, the family learned in early September he would need emergency surgery to get the seizures, which impact areas of the brain affecting memory and speech, under control.

However, in conversations Mathieu has had with medical staff at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, doctors need to apply for operating room time due to a pandemic strain on resources — applications which are triaged against others in order to determine priority care and procedures.

“I know the doctors at the hospital are pushing as much as they can,” Mathieu said. “Again, it’s a matter of when they apply, does he get accepted? So they really are pushing for that and the hope is that they will get us something, but they don’t know. Are we talking days? Are we talking weeks? Are we talking months? And they honestly cannot say.

“I think the hardest piece in that is the not knowing. How long are we on this? How long are we sitting here? How long are we waiting?”

If their application does get approved, it’s a 24-72 hour window to “drop everything” in preparation for the procedure, she added.

“If you’re surgical application is approved, you’re in, you go,” Mathieu said. “And that’s how it runs right now, because they have no notice, they can only book the O-R a day or two ahead, because they don’t know who is going to be able to staff those operating rooms.”

A spokesperson with Alberta Health Services confirmed that all surgeries and procedures that don’t have to be completed within a three-day window have been postponed across Alberta, which equates to 75 per cent of all surgeries usually completed within the provincial health care system.

Any surgical procedures that must be completed within a three-day window will continue, including urgent and emergent surgeries, as well as prioritized cancer surgeries, the spokesperson added.

Mathieu said the importance of vaccinating against COVID-19 extends beyond Calgary and Alberta, but also into British Columbia as well, given that the Alberta Children’s Hospital serves patients in border communities such as Cranbrook, noting that friends have stayed at her house while taking a child to appointments or consultations.

“As much as it might look like a Calgary issue or an Alberta issue, it is so much more than that,” she said. “If people in B.C. are getting more vaccinated and people in Alberta have a higher population of vaccination, we know that these two provinces intermingle, and there’s no way of stopping that — and nor do we want to — but it’s important that we take that step back and realize that this is not just us, this is everyone and we have to be here for everyone.”

While raising awareness on the preventable consequences of unvaccinated patients overwhelming Alberta’s health care system, Mathieu is also putting out a fundraising call for the Alberta Children’s Hospital, in recognition of the care and support her family has received from its medical staff.

“They are heroes in my eyes and I have all the respect in the world for these people who are taking care of our baby and I just want to say thank you to them,” she said.

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Trevor Crawley

About the Author: Trevor Crawley

Trevor Crawley has been a reporter with the Cranbrook Townsman and Black Press in various roles since 2011.
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