B.C. families scramble after pediatric heart transplant program suddenly suspended

Several families in BC have been thrown into a last minute battle to find a specialist surgeon for their children’s heart surgeries.

Fifteen-year-old Lauren Bews is one of those patients.

Her valve repair procedure had been canceled twice before, but last week her family was informed that BC Children’s Hospital’s multi-organ transplant program is indefinitely suspended as the chief of pediatric cardio-thoracic surgery goes on leave from July 1.

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“It’s disappointing because you see your daughter starting to slow down,” her father Ken Bews told Global News.

“It weighs heavily on you.”

Although Bews is not among the patients in the transplant program, the ripple effect means patients and families like hers are forced to make difficult decisions about moving to Edmonton, Toronto or the US.

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“Worst-case scenario, we’d have to sell our house, and the proceeds — to take everything to the US to have it done,” Bews said.

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“It’s very frustrating; it takes a lot to get the whole family ready for a big event.”

Families were given little explanation, but the problem is believed to be rooted in a systemic failure of the Provincial Health Service (PHSA) and BC Children’s Hospital management to create a healthy work environment amid a toxic dispute between surgeons Dr. Sanjiv Gandhi and Dr. Andrew Campbell.

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“I feel like the hospital has really let the county down here, they’ve really let the team down,” Andrea Marriott, whose son Reid has needed multiple major hospital treatments over the years.

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“I had Dr. Campbell for my son and we love him and we know so many that Dr. Gandhi had for their children and they love him. They needed the support, they needed intervention a long time ago to solve the interpersonal problems.”

A recent BC Supreme Court ruling says the Hospital Appeals Board “criticized the role of the BC Children’s Hospital administration in the dysfunction, and failed to take investigative or disciplinary action.”

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It goes on to say that the hospital’s “rather cynical behavior was considered unsatisfactory” and “evoked little sympathy from the court”.

Mariott said the end result is that children and families suffer.

The PHSA declined multiple requests from Global News for an interview and dodged specific questions about affected families.

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The health authority instead provided a written statement on behalf of the hospital.

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“Through our Cardiac Heart Disease Center of Excellence, we are treating some of the most complicated childhood heart cases in the western provinces,” it said.

“However, we are facing an acute shortage of cardiac surgeons. With patient safety as our top priority, we take swift action to support our patients and ensure continued access to care. This includes exploring options for out-of-province care, if needed.”

The PHSA statement on behalf of the hospital also said it deeply regrets that it has caused “additional stress” to families, saying “our care teams work closely with each of them to provide ongoing support and ensure care plans are in place. “

Families scrambling now are calling on those at the top to fix the problems so their sick children don’t have to pay the price.

“It’s somewhat demoralizing,” Bews said. “And, I can say, devastating.”

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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