The morning of Feb. 24, 2021, was the day everything changed for the Daken family.
It’s the day 16-year-old Lexi Daken died by suicide.
“There’s still days that I see her laying on the floor that morning,” says her father, Chris Daken.
Chris rushed Lexi to Fredericton’s Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital, with her sister and mom rushing to get there in separate cars.
“I had just got to the ICU. I had opened the door and I heard, ‘Code Blue, ICU,’ and I knew that was her,” recalls Lexi’s mom, Shawna Betts.
“They never got her back after that.”
Later that week, Betts took to social media to express her grief and frustration.
What bothered the family most was the fact Lexi had gone to the ER at that same hospital just days before on Feb. 18, 2021, in crisis and asking for help.
After waiting for eight hours, Betts says Lexi left without seeing a mental health professional, leaving her feeling like a burden.
“It’s hard to believe she’s been gone a year,” her mom says.
That one post thrust Lexi’s story, and her family, into the spotlight – and sent shockwaves through New Brunswick.
The attention, Betts says, has come with its difficulties.
“Everybody saw us ugly cry on national television,” she says.
“Do I feel like I did the right thing with going public with it? It feels like there is an opportunity for true change here. So, we have the recommendations, we just have to put them in place. But there was a personal cost that came on with that. That sucks.”
The recommendations Betts mentions are 21 “calls to action” issued in September by New Brunswick’s Child, Youth and Seniors Advocate in a report spawned by Lexi’s death.
In the months since that report was issued, Norm Bossé’s mandate as the advocate has ended. Former provincial attorney general Kelly Lamrock took over on Feb. 7.
While he’s still settling into the office, he says that report remains just as important today.
“This is one of the most important and thorough pieces of work this office did,” Lamrock says.
“I appreciate that the department chose to fund this project and had enough interest to want to hear this. But now we also have to make sure that they act.”
The delivery of the report in the fall came with the promise to provide public check-ins every six months — looking at where the province is with each of the recommendations put forth.
Lamrock says the first check-in will come in March.
He has not personally been in touch with Lexi’s family, but says he hopes they’ll be included in some of the steps to come.
And while Lexi’s family appreciates that the advocate’s office issued its report and recommendations, it falls on the provincial government and regional health authorities to actually enact measures that could prevent other families from feeling this grief.
Health Minister Dorothy Shephard says there has been progress.
“That work is still ongoing and certainly prioritized,” she says.
Horizon Health, the network that runs the hospital where Lexi died, provided Global News with a list of areas in the system where work is ongoing:
- creating a quiet area away from the larger waiting room in the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital emergency department
- hiring staff to implement the collaborative care model to offer mental health crisis care at the emergency department; this is ongoing
- implementing updated clinical standards for emergency mental health care
- policy work was completed on establishing a suicide risk screening and assessment process for use in all areas, along with a process to audit charts to ensure quality controls are in place
- implementing “one-at-a-time,” single-session therapy in community addiction and mental health centres, available to anyone by walk-in or appointment during regular business hours; waitlists for one-at-a-time, single-session therapy has been reduced by 54 per cent over the last four months
Lexi’s story not only evoked steps toward systemic change, it resonated with countless New Brunswickers as well.
“I still get messages and texts from people saying, ‘We went to the hospital and I don’t think we would have got the service that we’ve received if it wasn’t for Lexi,’” her dad Chris says.
“If you get an email from somebody saying, ‘I think Lexi saved my life,’ that just touches you.”
The Dakens have taken on something of an advocacy role in the wake of Lexi’s death — something they never expected, but that they say Lexi would be proud of.
“Lexi always wanted to help people,” says Piper, her older sister. “She’s still doing that.”
Lexi would’ve turned 17 on Jan. 17.
The family went skiing to celebrate, as they always have — but things were undoubtedly different this year.
“It was a weird feeling looking down the ski hill and not seeing Lexi in front of me,” her dad says.
With the first year of grief behind the family, Piper says she hopes the years to come can see a shift, with Lexi remembered more for the person she was, not the circumstances under which she died.
“The circumstances get the story and they grab people’s attention, but I think it’s her personality that makes them stay,” she says.
Lexi had a dark sense of humour that was unmatched, her family says.
She was kind and tenacious. She pushed boundaries.
And she’s still missed and loved by her family, one year later.
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.
Crisis Services Canada’s toll-free helpline provides 24-7 support at 1-833-456-4566.
CHIMO hotline (New Brunswick): 1-800-667-5005