HSC Foundation hoping Tuesday translates to giving


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Manitoba’s largest hospital needs mobility aids to help recovering critically ill patients regain their strength after they’ve spent months on ventilators.

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Manitoba’s largest hospital needs mobility aids to help recovering critically ill patients regain their strength after they’ve spent months on ventilators.

With enough public donations, the Health Sciences Centre will get equipment to help intensive-care patients relearn how to walk sooner and start exercising their muscles before they can support their own body weight. The HSC Foundation is trying to raise $21,000 Tuesday to purchase the equipment for HSC’s intermediate intensive-care unit.

Giving Tuesday, a global generosity effort, comes immediately after the unbridled consumerism of Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales.


Staff of HSC Winnipeg’s IICU, pictured left to right: Shannon Smith, physiotherapist; Allie Blazek, clinical resource nurse; Tracy Simcoe, manager of IICU and respiratory therapy; and Dr Adrian Robertson, IICU medical director.

“We all know if you’re sick for a week or 10 days on the couch, how much strength you lose,” said Dr. Adrian Robertson, medical director of the intermediate intensive-care unit. “Imagine doing nothing for a month — people get very weak.”

The IICU accepts patients from ICUs in Winnipeg and Brandon when they are past the worst of their illnesses but will take more time to recover. It is a critical-care unit that also offers rehabilitation, so its patients are often on ventilators at least part of the time.

“It’s not unusual to have people on the ventilator overnight that come off in the morning, do some exercises, maybe even go to the gym,” Robertson said.

The unit, first developed in Manitoba, opened at HSC in 1998. Most patients are in intensive care for two weeks, but often those who are there a month or more will be transferred to the IICU. It now has a baseline capacity of eight beds, but it has been treating 10 patients since the COVID-19 pandemic put unprecedented pressure on the health system. Many of the IICU’s patients had COVID and needed additional months to recover, and the unit was taking in non-COVID patients for whom there was no longer space in the ICU. Patients admitted to the intermediate intensive-care unit stay an average of three to six months.

Three medical devices, carrying a total price tag of $21,000, would help nurses and physiotherapists rehabilitate patients more quickly, Robertson said. They include a device that supports a patient to stand up, a motorized lift device with slings that allows patients to walk without the chance of falling and a “suspension cage” that makes it possible to exercise different body parts without gravity bearing down on them.

The unit has other devices that function similarly, but they must be used later in the recovery process. Showing patients they can make progress sooner helps motivate them and is a “very powerful morale boost,” Robertson said.

“Just the ability to stand will make people feel happier… being able to walk really boosts people’s outlook,” he said.

The donation campaign is just one of many fundraising projects local hospital foundations are highlighting for Giving Tuesday. Donations toward the equipment will be matched up to $15,000, thanks to two local businesses: the Just Like New to You thrift store and Manitoba Pork Producers. Donations can be made online at, by phone (204-515-5612 or 1-800-679-8493 or by texting “HSCF” to 20222.)

Burnout and fatigue throughout the health system hasn’t bypassed the unit’s staff, but the team is small and close-knit, Robertson said, fuelled by hearing from past patients, who often returned to visit before the pandemic.

“That is, honestly, one of our great joys,” Robertson said. “To see somebody that we worked (with) tirelessly for, say, six months, trying to get them back the ability to eat, the ability to speak, the ability to walk and then they come walking into the unit a year later looking fantastic, letting us know what they’re up to, what challenges they still have. Those are the kinds of things that really help fuel us.”

Katie May

Katie May

Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.

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