The people of Kyuquot shouldn’t have to experience any horrific medical evacuations in the near future, thanks to some recent actions by the provincial government.
On April 16, stricken with a severe case of appendicitis, 13-year-old Desmond Bell suffered a painful ambulance ride over the Fair Harbour to Zeballos forest service road (FSR) on his way to hospital in Campbell River. The B.C. Ambulance Service had refused to send an air ambulance due to a lack of night-vision capability for their pilots.
Ironically, those air ambulance pilots were in the final stages of night-vision certification training, and received their tickets barely a week later. And on May 3, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure announced $1.9 million in new funding to improve the road surface from Fair Harbour to Zeballos.
That’s good news, according to Desmond’s mother, Priscilla Jack. It’s been a tough few weeks for her son.
“Desmond is doing a lot better. He’s finally back to school - yesterday was his first day,” Jack said.
On the day Desmond’s condition became critical, the attending nurse called for an evacuation at 7 p.m. Following a brutal ambulance ride and protracted medical tests once he arrived in hospital, it was 1 p.m. before the boy was admitted to surgery. Jack said it was never determined whether the delay contributed to the severity of his illness.
Also adding to the confusion, Jack explained that she had fallen ill with a flu-like virus the day before Desmond started showing symptoms, which included vomiting. At first, Jack said she believed her son had contracted her virus.
“But he kept complaining about stomach pain,” she said. “I thought it was about all the vomiting, until he showed me that it was way down low on his pelvic bone, and I thought, ‘That’s not from vomiting’.”
By the time Desmond went into surgery 18 hours later, his condition was critical.
“It was supposed to be a 20-minute procedure. But it took an hour and a half to clean out his intestines,” Jack said.
According to the surgeon, Desmond’s appendix was “dead.”
“It had emptied into his intestines, which explains the pain he was in,” Jack said. “He was on two different antibiotics by IV for a week, and all kinds of different painkillers.”
On May 8, Ha-Shilth-Sa spoke with Eileen Lovestrom, Chief Administrative Officer with the Village of Zeballos. Lovestrom said while Desmond’s traumatic evacuation was not a direct trigger for the May 3 funding announcement, it certainly illustrated a long-standing issue for the area.
“I am aware of that call,” Lovestrom said. “This is something we deal with all the time.”
The CAO said the village publishes a list of ministry contacts and encourages people to contact the province with their concerns over road conditions. But it was organized action from the area’s Nuu-chah-nulth Nations that brought about a serious response, she said.
“This new funding came about because the Nuchatlaht, Ehattesaht-Chinehkint and Kyuquot-Checklesaht got together and wrote a letter to both the Ministry of Forests and Ministry of Highways,” said Lovestrom. “After a meeting with both ministers to talk about condition of the road, they all went down to Victoria to have a meeting. That was the start.”
That meeting included Zeballos Mayor Donnie Cox, she explained. Later, the same parties held a meeting in Zeballos.
“On April 25, they all came back to Zeballos for a third meeting,” Lovestrom said.
The funding picture is somewhat confused because the highways ministry pays the forest ministry $149,500 annually for regular road maintenance.
According to Highway Ministry Deputy Regional Director Janelle Erwin, her ministry will pay $800,000 this year and $800,000 next year to improve the running surface with “grading, crush surfacing and sightline improvements.” As well, the forest ministry is contributing an additional $300,000 in new money this year. Of that total, $90,000 is dedicated to additional grading until the major resurfacing effort begins.
“It takes time to develop the gravel pits that they need to improve the running surfaces,” Lovestrom explained. “So in the meantime, they need to grade more often.”
Priscilla Jack said she is relieved that the province has committed to improving that vital road link to the outside world, even though it came too late for her son. For now, she said, it is time to celebrate his recovery.
“We’re going to have a dinner for him, within the next five days,” Jack said. “The rest of my family is coming in. We’re going to sit down and have a community dinner with him.”