More than a dozen families of children in need of heart surgery have been forced to travel long distances for life-saving care, after BC Children’s Hospital informed them there was no pediatric heart surgeon available .
Thirteen children have been sent out of the province for surgery since July 1, according to the Vancouver hospital, and seven have since returned. Some parents have traveled to Toronto to get the medical care their children need.
Cody Levien and Alyssa Suzara learned less than a month before their planned Caesarean birth date, July 16, that there was no longer a team available to perform urgent heart surgery following the birth of their son. Logan was diagnosed in utero with a rare heart defect that required surgery within a week of birth.
So the couple, who live in Coquitlam, B.C., flew to Toronto when Suzara was 35 weeks pregnant and spent seven weeks there, from June 20 to August 5, including a two-week stay in Toronto SickKids Hospital.
âWe were taken by surprise and disappointed. We felt so isolated, as the family could be there in person,â says Levien.
The lack of care at BC Children’s Hospital appears to be due in part to a leave granted by its head of the pediatric cardiovascular and thoracic surgery department, Dr Sanjiv Gandhi. Court documents have revealed that there was a dispute between Gandhi and another cardiothoracic surgeon at the hospital who was fired but reinstated on appeal.
The hospital confirmed Gandhi was on “scheduled leave” but did not say whether internal conflict was the cause of the canceled surgeries.
In a statement, the hospital said it was aware there was a gap in care and apologized to patients and families. The hospital said it would continue to bring in cardiac surgeons from outside British Columbia to temporarily help with the procedures.
He added that he “also provides financial support for travel, accommodation and food, as needed, to support families” who have been affected.
But Suzara says she was âshockedâ when they were offered $ 100 a week in aid to help cover their costs in Toronto.
“I [was] 35 weeks pregnant. I can easily eat $ 100 worth of food – and that was for both of us. “
The family said they were initially offered $ 50 per week.
Suzara says having to catch a flight to Toronto on such a short notice was very stressful.
“We are a new, smaller family. I can’t imagine the financial costs and all for the larger families who are uprooted for weeks or more.”
6-month-old suffered cardiac arrests during transfer
When six-month-old Heather and Steve Lazeski’s heart problems worsened in early August, the Kelowna, B.C. couple learned that no team was available at BC Children’s Hospital. to help their son.
âThey chose to send him to Edmonton by medical transport,â says Steve Lazeski.
During transport, baby James suffered two cardiac arrests.
âThe only way I can describe it is like having your worst nightmare. It was traumaticâ¦ the transfer was too much for her little heart,â Heather Lazeski said.
The cardiac arrests damaged James’ kidneys and liver, rendering him ineligible for a heart transplant until those organs had recovered.
“Without this transfer he would not be as he is today,” said Heather Lazeski.
In Edmonton, James was put on a machine to help pump oxygen to his heart and lungs. The Lazeskis say they plan to stay in Edmonton until James is strong enough to receive a heart transplant, which could take up to a year.
When asked about the Lazeskis case, BC Children’s Hospital said, “We can’t talk about individual cases,” but said it was working to improve parts of its heart transplant program.
Laesa Kim, from Surrey, British Columbia, says she received a phone call on May 31 telling her that the heart surgery planned for her five-year-old daughter Evelyn would be canceled because Gandhi would be on leave. The call came five weeks before Evelyn’s planned surgery.
“I felt shocked … and devastated. To cancel meant all the preparation and all the anxiety that went into this operation. [was] broken, âKim said.
“And now there’s all this looming uncertainty as to when that will happen. Who will do the surgery? Where are we going to be for the surgery?”
Evelyn suffers from tricuspid atresia, a congenital heart defect that obstructs blood flow to the heart and will require multiple surgeries throughout her life. The family has spent years in and out of the hospital.
âI have been at his bedside in this hospital for hundreds of days over the past five years,â Kim said.
The Kim’s have been told they will know more about Gandhi’s return to work by August, but said they have not heard from the hospital yet.
Conflict of doctors
An April 2021 appeals court document reveals that there was a workplace dispute between Gandhi and Dr Andrew Campbell and the hospital ultimately terminated Campbell’s contract. According to the document, Gandhi was not consulted about Campbell’s dismissal.
Campbell appealed the decision. In a decision by the Hospital Appeal Board, Supreme Court Justice Nigel Kent said the hospital was aware of the dispute between the two doctors and “chose not to do anything about them.” The Provincial Health Services Authority has been ordered to reinstate Campbell.
Campbell has yet to return to work at BC Children’s Hospital. The hospital has not confirmed why.
“We remain committed to providing children and their families with the highest quality patient care, but we recognize that over the past few weeks we have faced challenges in achieving this and we apologize for the stress. that it may have caused the patients and families who need us most, “the hospital said in a statement.