Aldergrove resident Wendy Gould is all too familiar with the impossible nature of superbugs.
Gould had her “future ripped away from [her]” after her husband George – who battled stage-four colorectal cancer – was exposed to a superbug during an endoscopy at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) in 2016.
New data released Tuesday from an expert panel warns medication-resistant bacteria could kill as many as 400,000 Canadians and drain the economy of $400 billion over the next 30 years.
The “When Antibiotics Fail” report, commissioned by the Public Health Agency of Canada, says drug-resistant bacteria or “superbugs” killed almost as many people as Alzheimers disease in 2018 – 5,400 annually.
“We found out later the endoscope had been contaminated. So for 18 months, George battled that bug on top of the cancer he had,” Gould posted to Facebook.
Gould said it was the superbug he contracted that made George’s cancer untreatable.
“Isn’t fighting cancer enough?” she said.
The 268-page document said Canadians with medical conditions and compromised immune systems are at the highest risk for consuming bacteria resistant to medication.
Wendy and George had met later in life, fallen in love, and married in October 2010.
After George’s cancer diagnosis five years later, her husband – the teacher, former lawyer, and “best hug giver” – even set in motion a Make-A-Wish-type foundation for adults with terminal diagnoses.
He was a man with a determination to help others.
Gould was made aware of the “possible” contamination during his 2016 endoscopy in a letter from Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH).
The authority admitted George was one of three patients who had visited the endoscopy clinic that had been infected with New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase (NDM).
NDM is a highly-infectious superbug.
Gould alleges it complicated all future attempts that George underwent to treat his colorectal cancer.
“He ended up in hospital 22 times because of infection” Gould said, attributing his in-patient stays to the violent nausea and frightening hallucinations that resulted from intravenous antibiotics given an attempt to treat the bug.
A Canadian Public Health Agency report released in March warns the public of the looming dangers of bacteria resistant to medication, also known as antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
If left unaddressed – it said AMR will “cause serious infections to become untreatable, existing treatments to become more expensive, and procedures like chemotherapy for cancer to become so risky that they may not be readily available.”
The report considers superbugs “a slow-moving tsunami that carries a significant burden on human health, health care, and the Canadian economy as a whole.”
Days before his death, George was denied palliative care at Abbotsford Regional Hospital (ARH).
“There was a room available and George was expected to be transferred there,” Gould alleged.
“He could not go to that unit because of the superbug. I was told by the manager of the unit where he [was] that the palliative care nurses [would] not even come up to his room and treat him.”
She then found out her extended health coverage would not cover out-of-hospital palliative care.
Gould said she expected to grow old with George by her side.
Instead, George passed away in January of 2018 in an isolation unit at ARH at age 58, three years after his initial cancer diagnosis on Sept. 5, 2015.
Now, the Gould family hopes to prevent this from ever happening again, and live in the legacy of George’s wish to help others in pain.
Gould has filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court of B.C. against Vancouver Coastal Health which operates Vancouver General Hospital – alleging the superbug ultimately led to George’s death and denied him a fighting chance at battling his cancer.
Her claim has not been proven in court.
- With files from Canadian Press