December 6, 2019

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'Just to get in there, that's the hardest part'

Winnipeg cardiac backlog 'not a shock,' says former patient whose surgery was delayed three times

A man whose cardiac surgery was rescheduled three times at St. Boniface Hospital says the process was frustrating, but his care was "top notch" — once he finally got looked after.

The surgeries were rescheduled throughout October and November, twice before he arrived and a third time when he was already in hospital and prepped for the operating room.

The Free Press is not naming the 61-year-old man, who didn’t want his name shared along with his health information.

The man required open-heart surgery to fix a hole in his heart he had had since birth. It was an elective surgery, meaning it wasn’t as urgent as some other emergency cases the Winnipeg hospital deals with.

The surgery could be rescheduled, though the man said the constant rescheduling caused him undue stress in an already tense situation.

On his fourth visit to the hospital, the man said nurses tried to turn him away again.

"So we got in there, got prepped, I got my chest shaved. We’re all ready to go for the operation and the nurse came in and said there’s a delay," he recalled Friday.

"We got in there, got prepped, I got my chest shaved. We’re all ready to go for the operation and the nurse came in and said there’s a delay." -Cardiac patient

The doctor had an emergency elsewhere, the nurse told him.

"My wife says, ‘We’re not going anywhere. We’re staying here until we get the operation.'"

Her protest paid off and he got the surgery on the fourth try.

On Monday, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said at least 120 elective cardiac surgeries had been rescheduled at the St. Boniface cardiac unit since the fall.

It also said 104 people were waiting in the community for surgery, with 64 of them fit and ready for operations. (The health authority said it couldn't provide updated numbers Friday.)

The WRHA previously said the frequent cardiac surgery rescheduling was happening due to a lack of available intensive care unit nurses. The region is seeking to train more nurses in the specialized field, and recently graduated 33 more from its critical care training program (12 have taken jobs with St. Boniface’s cardiac unit).

Signs point to the Bergen Cardiac Care center at the St. Boniface Hospital. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Signs point to the Bergen Cardiac Care center at the St. Boniface Hospital. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press files)

On Friday, the Manitoba Nurses Union said it was told there are only four nurses signed up for the next critical care training program, a number the WRHA could not confirm.

The man, who is doing well about three months post-surgery, said he wasn’t surprised to hear about the cardiac surgery backlog, since, "Right now, it’s the norm. I’ve been through it, so it’s not a shock."

"We were like, ‘That’s normal.’ But it shouldn’t be," he added.

He praised the work of the nursing staff at St. Boniface, who looked after him for about two weeks post-surgery due to complications.

"It was very frustrating, but once you do get in, you’re taken care of. Those nurses are great," he said. "The care was just top notch and everything. But just to get in there, that’s the hardest part."

"The care was just top notch and everything. But just to get in there, that’s the hardest part." -Cardiac patient

If the cardiac unit's problems don't improve, the man worried the situation may turn fatal.

"Somebody’s going to die one of these days, if they haven’t already.

"A lot of people have heart diseases and I guess maybe the anxiety could put pressure on them from being cancelled too many times," he said.

"It sure worked me and my wife up."

jessica.botelho@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @_jessbu

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski
Legislature reporter

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.

Read full biography

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