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Alberta health-care capacity issues aired following girl’s surgery ordeal at Edmonton children’s hospital

New concerns about the state of Alberta’s health-care system came to light Wednesday as a family revealed their ordeal over a girl’s life-saving kidney transplant last month at Edmonton’s Stollery Children’s Hospital.

Jessica Nichol and her 12-year-old daughter Cadence were slated for kidney surgery the morning of Dec. 20 at the hospital when the procedure was called off minutes before Jessica, who had been sedated in preparation to donate one of her kidneys to Cadence, was to go into surgery.

Cadence was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease in 2022, with the condition progressing to end-stage renal failure by May last year, prompting a need for a kidney transplant.

“The surgery was cancelled while I was on the operating table because they didn’t have a bed for Cadence in the pediatric intensive care unit,” Jessica said during a media conference held Wednesday by the Opposition Alberta NDP. “There was not enough nursing staff for the critical moments after a life-saving surgery. As a result, her life-saving surgery was put on hold.”

The transplant went ahead later that day after the “transplant team … took it upon themselves to find a solution,” changing staff schedules to ensure the surgeries for the successful transplant went ahead instead of being delayed, Jessica said.

“There’s no question that, without intervention, Cadence’s health would have continued to deteriorate. Her life would have been at risk,” Jessica said. “If not for the amazing efforts of everyone who made our surgeries happen that day, we would’ve been back on the waiting list, and I’m not sure that Cadence would have lasted the next opportunity.”

Two doctors at the Stollery raised concerns about the incident in a Dec. 25 letter to Premier Danielle Smith and Health Minister Adrianna LaGrange of Alberta’s ruling UCP government, saying they “have been skirting a balance between quality and quantity of care” after weeks of the intensive-care unit being “taxed … with extremely sick children.”

“We can tell you that we are failing, daily, and children are suffering and may die as a result,” they said in the letter.

Dr. Carina Majaesic, the Stollery’s medical director, said during a media availability Wednesday afternoon that December day was an extremely busy time at the hospital due to a surge in viral infections.

She said delaying surgeries “are not easy decisions to make, as we review the different patients … and how a delay will affect them” and that the hospital makes “every effort” to reschedule as soon as possible.

“On this particular day, the ICU was close to full and then emergency patients rolled over from the day before, who then needed to go ahead. This patient was relatively stable,” Majaesic said.

Cadence’s surgery was one of 11 that was cancelled in December due to what Alberta Health Services calls more emergent cases.

An AHS spokesperson said some of those surgeries would have been rescheduled in about two-to-three days, others in two-to-three weeks.

In the letter, the doctors ask Smith and LaGrange to approve funding for a new hospital. Their call was echoed by Majaesic, who said she would welcome the additional space.

In an email statement to CTV News Edmonton, LaGrange said the Stollery “has a significant role in our health care system and plays a critical part in ensuring children get the care they need,” adding that planning has started for a new facility to replace the hospital, which shares the Walter Mackenzie Health Centre with the University of Alberta Hospital and the Mazankowski Heart Institute. 

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