Calgary man dies after contracting COVID-19 at Foothills hospital; family seeks remdesivir for daughter on ventilator

Click to play video: 'Calgary veteran dies after contracting COVID-19 at Foothills hospital; daughter now on ventilator'
Calgary veteran dies after contracting COVID-19 at Foothills hospital; daughter now on ventilator
WATCH: A Calgary family is mourning the death of their father after he was diagnosed with COVID-19 while being treated at the Foothills hospital. Now, both his wife and daughter have tested positive, and the family is fighting for the daughter to have access to the anti-viral drug remdesivir. – Oct 9, 2020

The son of a Calgary veteran who died at the Foothills Medical Centre in September is wondering how his father could have contracted COVID-19 at the hospital.

On top of that, he says he is now fighting for his sister to be allowed to have access to the anti-viral drug remdesivir, after she tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Valerie Smith, 55, contracted COVID-19 shortly after her father Russell Smith passed away on Sept. 23. She had been visiting him at the Foothills Medical Centre, where he had been since late August. Her mother also tested positive but only had mild symptoms.

Russell tested positive for COVID-19 on Sept. 19.

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Stephen Smith, Russell’s son, said that his dad went to the Foothills hospital in late August because he wasn’t feeling well. He recently had minor outpatient surgery.

A few weeks into his hospital stay, Stephen said his father was ready to go home.

“He was getting better at one point and then he started getting worse every day,” Stephen said from his home in Florida.

Stephen’s father passed away on Sept. 23.

“[I’m] very angry and just shocked that this wasn’t a consideration,” said Stephen.

“They blamed it on his heart condition. They thought that is why he took a downward turn. They should’ve tested him, absolutely.”

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: Canada secures 150,000 vials of Remdesivir with Gilead Sciences, McKesson Canada'
Coronavirus: Canada secures 150,000 vials of Remdesivir with Gilead Sciences, McKesson Canada

The first outbreak in cardiac care was declared on Sept. 19, according to medical officer of health Dr. Nick Etches, and included units 81 and 103A. The outbreak on the general medicine unit, which is a single unit, was declared the following day.

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Stephen’s father was in several units at the hospital, including unit 81, where the outbreak was declared.

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Stephen said the tragedy has been compounded by the fact both his mother and father were doing all the right things to avoid getting the virus, including ordering meals and groceries.

“My father’s house was his castle and he stayed in there. He had lots to entertain him.

“He went through so much trouble in the first place to protect himself from COVID and then he goes to the hospital and gets COVID and dies… It’s just incredible.”

Russell’s daughter and wife have now tested positive for COVID-19.

Valerie has been on a ventilator at the Rockyview Hospital for the past three days, Stephen said.

“Yesterday they had to increase my sister’s oxygen and again they had to today. She has taken a bit of a downturn and I don’t know how far she will turn down. The doctors don’t know.

“But if she had remdesivir at least she could have a fighting chance and come out of this alive.”

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Foothills hospital staff ‘exhausted’ from increased hours amid COVID-19 outbreaks: unions

Stephen has been working with his sister’s doctor trying to get her access to the antiviral drug proven to assist with COVID-19 treatment.

“He wants her to get the Remdesivir. He has been calling around making phone calls to other hospitals, to organizations, to government and he says there is red tape or there’s none available.

“But if he had it in his hand right now he would give it to her,” Stephen said.

Health Canada has authorized the use of the drug to treat patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms but Canada’s chief public health officer has warned that the supply is limited.

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Click to play video: 'Remdesivir: Drug shows promise as COVID-19 treatment'
Remdesivir: Drug shows promise as COVID-19 treatment

In a statement to Global News, Alberta Health Services said a “small supply” of remdesivir was made available to Alberta from the Public Health Agency of Canada in late September.

“The decision at that time was to limit access of remdesivir to patients enrolled in the CATCO clinical trial.

“The rationale for this was that the published evidence to date does not answer the question of whether remdesivir improves mortality.

“AHS is undertaking a formulary review of remdesivir, with an anticipated decision date of mid-November. The review will be informed by a Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health (CADTH) updated review of remdesivir, which is expected to be released next week,” reads the statement.

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But Stephen wonders why governments are doing their own tests when other tests have shown it is effective.

The Smith family has also sent a letter to Sonya Savage, the MLA for Calgary North-West.

“Why would a drug, approved by Health Canada, distributed to provinces not be utilized in the fight against a virus that has claimed too many lives and affected so much change in our province, our economy and our country?

“We would greatly appreciate if you would now advocate on our family’s behalf to help our sister to receive remdesivir,” reads the letter.

The constituency manager responded on Friday, stating that she has reached out to both the minister of health and AHS on the family’s behalf and will follow up.

“It’s not a silver bullet or anything, but it will at least help them to recover and give them a fighting chance,” Stephen said. “It’s not just for my sister either. It’s for every family who has a family member in the hospital where this drug has been proven to shorten the length of stay on oxygen in the hospital by five to seven days.”

Minister of Public Services and Procurement Anita Anand announced on Sept. 22 that the government signed new agreements with Gilead Sciences and McKesson Canada to secure supply of up to 150,000 vials of the drug.

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​Adding to Stephen’s grief is that he wasn’t able to see his dad before he died because he lives in Florida and would have been required to be in self isolation for two weeks.

“I called the consulate and told them the situation and I said: ‘I’ll take a test here and when I get to Canada, I will take another test. I won’t leave until I get the results of that test back.'”

Stephen said he understands the Canadian government needs to protect citizens but he would like to see the government make some exceptions when it comes to the quarantine period.

“I just want to go see my father. Going up there and sitting in a hotel for two weeks — that doesn’t work. He could be dead by then. And that was the fact.”

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