A Gilbert Plains man is suing Manitoba’s health system and first responders, as he says his 78-year-old wife’s perforated bowel wasn’t caught in a timely manner, leading to her eventual death two years ago.
Donald Wiwcharuk, executor of his late wife’s estate, is seeking damages under the Fatal Accidents Act after his wife Elizabeth (“Liz”) Wiwcharuk died of cardiogenic shock and sepsis — which would not have happened if not for her health-care providers’ negligence , according to a statement of claim filed in Manitoba’s Court of King’s Bench on June 16.
He alleges his wife did not receive the “life-saving medical intervention” she required in a timely way, thanks to a long ambulance wait time and the hospital’s “failure to identify or treat the cause of Liz’s worsening symptoms.”
Donald launched the lawsuit against the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, Shared Health, Health Sciences Center and Winnipeg and Fire Paramedic Services. He lives in Gilbert Plains, which is about 275 kilometers northwest of Winnipeg.
Elizabeth went to Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Center on June 18, 2021, for an endoscopy and gastroscopy — both non-urgent procedures related to her throat condition, Barrett’s esophagus. Elizabeth’s daughter in Winnipeg, Shonna Newans, went with her on the hospital visit.
Afterwards, Elizabeth “immediately began voicing complaints of pain and rubbing her side,” the lawsuit alleges, including that when she had these procedures done previously, she had not experienced “pain of that severity or in that location.”
Newans asked a nurse to examine her mother, but the nurse told her to go to a family doctor. The lawsuit notes that due to living out of the city, “it was impractical to take him to his family doctor.” Elizabeth later went to a walk-in clinic where she was prescribed antibiotics, the claim says.
But Elizabeth’s condition got worse, and a HealthLinks nurse told Newans that her mother needed to go to the emergency room by ambulance right away, so Newans called 911, the claim says.
After a more than two-hour wait for an ambulance, Elizabeth arrived at HSC at about 12 am on June 19, the lawsuit says. Newans, who was her mother’s medical escort and went with her to all her appointments, wasn’t allowed to go in the ambulance or in the ER due to COVID-19 policies in place at the time.
Because of this, the lawsuit alleges, Newans had difficulty telling medical professionals about the concerns she had over her mother’s procedures the previous day, which she worried had caused complications. Newans called HSC several times, but a frustrated nurse said “she had nine patients assigned to just her and did not have time to sit on the phone.”
“The nurse did not acknowledge Shonna’s comments and appeared angry and distracted throughout the conversation,” the lawsuit alleges.
At about 2:30 pm that day, Newans was told her mother was being rushed into surgery because her bowel had perforated the day before. The surgeon later told Newans that he couldn’t fix the perforation and his mother needed to regain strength before any more surgery, the claim says.
Intensive care unit nurses told Newans that Elizabeth took a turn for the worse early the next morning, and she passed away that day.
‘Severe and irrevocable impacts’
The lawsuit argues HSC, the WHRA and Shared Health had a responsibility to make sure any COVID-19 policies in place were “reasonable, appropriate and necessary,” including policies that stop medical escorts from going to the hospital with vulnerable patients who have a ” limited ability to self-advocate.”
The health-care system also had a duty to make sure Elizabeth was properly assessed and diagnosed, the claim says.
It also alleges the fire paramedic service dispatcher didn’t mark Newan’s initial call as “urgent,” and only showed up after Newans called a second time and “was able to persuade” the dispatcher that her mother needed transport right away.
Ultimately, Elizabeth’s perforated bowel went unnoticed for more than 12 hours, leading to “severe and irrevocable impacts to Liz’s overall health and to her eventual death,” the lawsuit alleges.
“The breach of duty by the defendants resulted in Liz experiencing cardiogenic shock and sepsis, which would not have arisen but for the defendants’ negligence in failing to identify and respond to her worsening condition,” the claim says.
These allegations have not been proven in court, and no statements of defense have been filed.
Shared Health and the fire paramedic service declined to comment as the lawsuit was before the court. Donald’s lawyer, Jesse Rock, also declined to comment. CBC also reached out to the WRHA.