Rocky-area widow pleads for better cardiac treatment for Central Albertans

Lillian Hay wonders if her late husband Grant would have survived with local cardiac catheterization

A grieving Rocky-area widow is urging Alberta Health to give Red Deer hospital a life-saving cardiac clinic so other Central Albertans don’t have to lose loved ones to heart attacks.

“I don’t want somebody else to be left with the same question,” said Lillian Hay, whose husband died in March en route to Calgary.

Lillian is plagued by “what if?” — If her husband Grant Hay could have received cardiac catheterization treatment in Red Deer, would he still be alive today?

On March 15, she recalls her 55-year-old spouse, a gas plant worker with no previous health concerns, came home feeling tired and complaining of nausea and difficulty breathing. Lillian drove him 33 km to Rocky Mountain House hospital where doctors realized he was having a heart attack and treated him with anti-clotting medication.

The next step would be to get Grant to a cardiac catheterization clinic, where a tube could be inserted in his arteries to unblock them.

If Red Deer had such a cardiac clinic, he could have been driven there within the “golden hour,” said Lillian, describing the optimum time for achieving the best results.

But Red Deer hospital does not have a cardiac catheterization program, even though it serves 400,000 Central Albertans. Local doctors have been lobbying for a Red Deer clinic for six or more years.

Last March, physicians in Rocky made plans to fly Grant to Calgary’s Foothills Hospital for this treatment. But a March snowstorm reduced visibility so neither a fixed-wing plane nor a STARS air ambulance could make the trip, said Lillian. The retired nurse remembers feeling “helpless” watching her husband’s condition decline.

Finally, Rocky hospital found a ground ambulance crew willing to make the trip to Calgary on bad roads.

But, Grant suffered a second heart attack just outside of Sundre, where paramedics started trying to resuscitate him. They continued their efforts at Sundre hospital, but got no further response, said Lillian. He died at about 4 a.m. on March 16.

Grant, an avid outdoorsman who had been married to Lillian for 37 years, also left behind three grown children and seven grandchildren.

Lillian said she wanted to go public with his story to urge Alberta Health to give Central Albertans a cardiac catheterization clinic.

“Our hope is that both AHS and the provincial government will not allow another family to have this unanswered question… No matter where we live in Alberta, we are all entitled to the best care possible.”

Dr. Kym Jim, of Red Deer, said it was first recognized a decade ago that Red Deer would benefit from having a cardiac catheterization clinic. Four years ago, another report concluded it would make a big improvement in mortality from heart attacks.

But Alberta Health has been waiting for the results of a province-wide study on cardiac services. Jim said it’s expected to be released in early October.

What happened to the Hay family is a tragedy, said Jim. “It’s one thing to suffer a loss, it’s another to be left with question that always leave you guessing.”

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The late Grant Hay. (Contributed photo).

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