Family speaks out for more cardiac care

Campaign for Red Deer cath lab continues

Another family has come forward with an alarming story about why Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre needs a cardiac catheterization lab.

On May 30 Dr. Muhammad Shafiq had a heart attack while working at the hospital, but lifesaving treatment was an ambulance ride away in Edmonton.

The internist was doing rounds when his heart attack struck and was rushed to the emergency department.

“He had an intervention within eight minutes because he was literally in hospital,” said his wife Kaniz Sattar-Shafiq on Thursday.

But he needed to get to a cardiac catheterization laboratory and STARS air ambulance was unavailable, she said.

“They made the decision because they were not sure how long it would take for the helicopter to come back that they would send him by ground ambulance knowing the risks of staying in Red Deer were even higher.”

She said it was a blessing he was at the hospital, but at the same time tragic there was nothing else they could do.

On the way to Edmonton he had another heart attack. His pain started to increase in the Leduc area.

“When he made it to Royal Alex it was then that his heart stopped for four minutes. Had it stopped in Leduc, we would have lost him.

“The difficult part for me was the second attack was preventable. Had we had the facilities here, he wouldn’t have had to suffer anymore than he had with the first one. It was the second one that was worse.”

Dr. Shafiq, 55, agreed he was lucky to be at the hospital. Other cardiac patients are hours away.

“I just feel sad. There are so many people that live in Hanna, Stettler and all these areas. They come from there to here and then get transferred somewhere else,” Dr. Shafiq said.

Since last October doctors in Red Deer and Central Alberta have been speaking out about the need for a cath lab and other services at Red Deer’s regional hospital.

Doctors say that without local access to treat blocked arteries, and the long transfer times for treatment elsewhere, it means Central Albertans have a 60 per cent higher rate of death or disability than people in Calgary or Edmonton.

When Dr. Shafiq came to Red Deer 11 years ago the hospital was looking to get a cath lab.

“I don’t know why they don’t want to have a cath lab here. It’s a big hospital. It’s a big catchment area.”

In the ambulance he remembered thinking that he was dying before arriving at Royal Alexandra Hospital.

“I just made it to the door there. They were running like crazy in the hallway with me on the stretcher. I don’t remember anything after that.”

His wife said they aren’t the only family in Central Alberta that has been unable to get the cardiac care they needed at Red Deer hospital. Alberta Health Services (AHS) and the province needs to make it available.

“The consequences are tragic. That’s what’s happening and that’s what’s continuing to happen. There has to be a time when you stop and say they need the resources. Please give it to them.

“I just feel that it’s a blatant breach of the duty of care that Alberta Health Services owes to all of Red Deer and Central Zone and it’s a blatant breach by outsourcing resources to Edmonton and Calgary. I’m not saying they shouldn’t have the resources, but we should have them too.”

She has written letters to the federal and provincial health ministers as well as Red Deer South MLA Barb Miller and Red Deer City Council.

“We need people to intervene at every level and say that we need this resource. Without it people are dying,” she said.

In July Red Deer councillors voted unanimously in favour of advocating for the urgent need for more beds and services at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre on behalf of residents.

Coun. Ken Johnston, whose wife Isabelle died three-a-half months after a major heart attack, said he has heard from a lot of people with cardiac care stories.

“So many people are coming to me. They know I have been personally affected by this issue. They understand that I understand their fear. I understand their anxiety because I’ve been through it myself,” Johnston said.

Last November his wife was flown by STARS air ambulance to Foothills Hospital in Calgary.

He couldn’t definitively say she would have survived if Red Deer had a cath lab. But there was a delay in surgery because she had to be transferred.

“The bottom line was we didn’t have the service. She had to be air-lifted.”

Related: Doctors hold rare meeting to call for cardiac services in Central Alberta

Johnston said when it comes to cardiac care, lives are at immediate risk when it is not available which makes it a top priority.

Ted Braun, AHS vice president and medical director for Southern Alberta, said AHS and Alberta Health are creating a provincial plan for interventional cardiac services for communities outside Calgary and Edmonton, like Red Deer, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Grande Prairie, and Fort McMurray.

He said concerns around cardiac services in Red Deer prompted the work. Cardiologists from all five zones are involved, including Red Deer.

“The results of that plan should help us to understand what the needs are and how best to meet the needs of people in those smaller regional centres,” Braun said.

Work started in June and won’t be finished until early next year, late fall at the earliest, and will include recommendations for the provincial government.

“No provincial plan was previously done for cardiac services. This will be the first such plan.”

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