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Ontario preschooler airlifted 350km from home due to local hospital full


An Ontario mother says her son’s recent experience in Ontario’s crowded pediatric healthcare system has left her and her family terrified.

Last month, the Simcoe, Ont. His mother’s four-year-old son, Remy, was airlifted to Kingston General Hospital, some 350 kilometers from his home, with near-fatal sepsis.

“When your child has a fever, that’s not where you expect it to be,” an emotional Stephanie Rutherford told CTV News Toronto in an interview.

Normally, Remy would have been rushed to the pediatric intensive care unit (ICU) at McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton, Ont. for treatment, but it was full.

Doctors at Rutherford’s local hospital, Norforlk General, originally thought the preschooler had a viral infection and sent him and his mother home on Tylenol and Advil.

But then things got worse.

“He was unable to roll over, feed himself, go to the bathroom, complaining of pain in his neck, arms and legs ached, he complained of a headache,” Rutherford said.

Rutherford called 911 and said local doctors realized he needed treatment in a pediatric intensive care unit.

But with McMaster full, as well as London Children’s Hospital, Remy was airlifted to Kingston – the nearest hospital with a pediatric intensive care bed available at the time.

“They said if I hadn’t called 911 when I did, he would be dead… A parent’s worst nightmare,” Rutherford recalled.

Remy was eventually diagnosed with group A strep, which often causes strep throat or scarlet fever. In rare cases, like Remy’s, it can turn into a septic infection that can lead to multiple organ failure.

Rutherford said his kidneys, pancreas, liver and spleen were all affected as a result of the infection and his body bloated every time he needed an IV. He was placed on a ventilator and treated with antibiotics while at Kingston General, where he remains today.

Remy Rutherford, 4, is seen in this undated image. (Provided)

Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones commented on Rutherford’s experience, saying it’s “not ideal” for a family to have a child treated so far away.

“But it’s also important to understand that by doing this airlift, this child was able to be assessed and treated earlier,” she said.

Children’s hospitals in Ontario have seen an increase in the number of patients with respiratory illnesses in recent months, a problem that has been compounded by widespread staffing issues.

Locally, in early November, the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto announced it was canceling surgeries and redeploying ICU staff to deal with the influx.

In this case, Sick Kids’ chief of intensive care, Dr Steven Schwartz, said it was the right choice.

“It literally saved lives,” he said in an interview with The Canadian Press published Monday.

For her part, Rutherford said she was grateful to the doctors and healthcare staff caring for her son, but said she was appalled that her family and others were forced into this position.

“It was terrifying to be honest,” she said.

With files from Janice Golding and The Canadian Press

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