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Family of Quebec doctor who died by suicide hopes her death serves as wake-up call

Click to play video 'Family and community of Quebec doctor in mourning over her suicide' Family and community of Quebec doctor in mourning over her suicide
WATCH: The family of a Quebec emergency room physician doctor who died by suicide over of COVID-19-related stress is sharing her story after the 35 year-old mother died earlier this month. As Global’s Dan Spector reports, Dr. Karine Dion's husband and sister are speaking out in the hopes of saving other front-line workers who may be suffering – Jan 12, 2021

For the past week and a half, David Daigle’s life has plunged into profound darkness.

“She was my confidante. She was my love. We had a very strong link,” he told Global News, speaking of his wife, 35-year-old Karine Dion.

Dion worked as an emergency room doctor in Granby, Quebec. She died by suicide on Jan. 3, and Daigle was the one who found her. He’s been living at his parents’ house ever since.

“I can’t go back home. I have too many images in my head to go there,” he said.

Daigle is now a single parent to the couple’s seven-year-old son, Jacob, with whom he says Karine was very close.

“She was special,” Jacob said.

Daigle says his son has been the one consoling him.

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“I think he’s just living in the present. He hasn’t calculated all the repercussions this will have for us. A son needs his mother, and he was very close with his mother,” Daigle said.

Read more: Quebec’s coronavirus hospitalizations jump as province adds 1,934 new cases, 47 deaths

Though Karine never caught COVID-19, Daigle believes Karine’s death can be considered collateral damage from the virus. Back in March, early in the pandemic, Dion got so stressed about the virus that she didn’t sleep for days. She had a breakdown, and had to be hospitalized.

“She was very worried about what was happening to doctors, especially in Italy,” explained Karine’s younger sister Geneviève Dion, 31.

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“My big sister had so many good things to do in this world. She was a very beautiful, kind person, with a big, big heart.”

Genevieve is an occupational therapist, and a vice-president with Quebec’s Private Occupational Therapists’ Association. She said she often deals with stressed health professionals herself.

Genevieve said Karine got professional help and had a lot of support from her family, but believes her sister returned to work too fast, which she says is common problem for burnt out health-care workers.

“It’s very difficult for us actually to help people who work in the health-care system because it’s too toxic,” she said, adding that when occupational therapists make recommendations for gradual returns to work, they’re often ignored in health care.

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“I feel like everyone in the health-care system has post-traumatic stress.”

After her breakdown, Karine set up an online support group for health workers, and tried to help others. In recent weeks, she went on leave for stress.

Read more: Coronavirus: Quebec doctor’s death by suicide sends shockwaves through Canada’s medical community

“She felt guilty, useless, ashamed of herself,” said Daigle, explaining that Karine couldn’t bear the guilt of being home while her overwhelmed colleagues continued to work.

“It’s a lot of pressure,” said Dr. Gilbert Boucher, president of Quebec’s Association of Emergency Medicine Specialists. “There is a pressure of not letting your coworkers down.”

He said the pandemic has made it harder for doctors to get support, and recommended all medical professionals reach out to colleagues or family members if they’re thinking dark thoughts.

“Hopefully people can get help, sometimes just to take a step back and realize we’re not alone in this thing and that we’re all feeling the same way,” he said.

Genevieve said Karine tried things like therapy, mediation and yoga to reduce her stress.

“She tried a lot of things. It’s not because she didn’t try, but she had too much stress inside of her,” she said.

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Karine’s family wants her death to serve as a wakeup call to health professionals, that if they’re in a dark place, they need to reach out for help.

“It needs to be spoken about more. Those who are in distress right now, they need to seek help. If you know someone who’s in distress, call them, and tell them you love them. So many people called me and told me they wished they had called Karine,” said Daigle.

He also hopes people will follow public health recommendations, to help reduce the stress on health workers.

“All our essential workers need that right now,” he said. “If I can help save even one life by speaking out, I will not have done this for nothing.”

A GoFundMe to raise money for Karine’s family has surpassed $30,000 in donations.

If you need help, please call Suicide Action Montreal at 1·866·277·3553.  Nurses in your area are available around the clock by calling 811.

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