Delayed cardiac surgery and inadequate followup care has taken a toll on the health of one Alberta man, who said he felt abandoned by the Alberta government during the second wave of the pandemic.
Scott Whynott, a 56-year-old Airdrie resident, was admitted to hospital after he experienced a heart attack at work. He had another heart attack in hospital a few days later, when doctors told him he had nine artery blockages.
Doctors said he needed heart bypass surgery to restore blood flow to his heart, but the procedure was postponed due to surgical backlogs caused by an overwhelmed health-care system.
“Three times I was scheduled and three times my surgery was postponed because we were in the second wave of COVID,” Whynott said during a news conference organized by the Opposition NDP on Wednesday. “My doctors said that if I didn’t get the surgery, I wasn’t going to live much longer.”
After waiting a few months, Whynott’s eight-hour bypass surgery was rescheduled in October. He said he was isolated from his family due to visitor restrictions and then wasn’t able to receive the usual post-surgical care, with most of the followup and rehabilitation work done over the phone.
“A person going through my situation would have had cardiac rehab, would have had dietitians, would have had a wound care specialist coming to the house to change my bandages and so on,” he said. “All of that was denied to me.”
Incisions made to access veins in Whynott’s legs during the bypass surgery reopened and stayed open for months, he said. His legs became septic and, although the wounds have healed, Whynott said he will likely never return to work or walk easily again.
“I was on my own. I didn’t know what I was looking for. I didn’t know how bad things were getting until it was too late. I missed out on a whole bunch of different opportunities for my health because of COVID and the way the pandemic was handled,” he said.
“The sad thing is that we are not the only people who have gone through this in the two years of hell. I’ve lost friends who passed away because they couldn’t get the care that they needed in time.”
More than 15,000 surgeries have been cancelled or postponed in Alberta since August, a number that grows larger each day the health system operates at reduced capacity, according to the province. This is in addition to the 30,000 procedures cancelled or postponed during the first three waves of the pandemic.
NDP Health critic David Shepherd said the health-care system “remains under extraordinary stress,” and the province is still waiting to see what effect the Omicron variant may have.
“I urge the UCP to learn from its deadly mistakes and protect Albertans from another mass cancellation of surgeries,” Shepherd said.
Health Minister Jason Copping did not give an updated number of delayed or cancelled procedures during the fourth wave at an unrelated news conference Wednesday, but said the health-care system is now operating at 82 per cent of surgical capacity.
“We’ll come forward to Albertans in terms of what our plan is, not only once we hit the 100 per cent, which we hopefully will be in the near future . . . but how to catch up on the cases that are outstanding and what our timeline is,” Copping said.
“A lot of it is going to depend on what else COVID has to throw at us and what the impact is on our hospital system.”
Khara Sauro, assistant professor at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine, has been studying the effects of COVID-19 on surgical services since the first wave. In a review last year, Sauro and her colleagues interviewed 16 people who had their surgeries delayed to understand the personal effect that delayed procedures had on patients.
“One person who was waiting for cardiac surgery was particularly concerned about having a heart attack or stroke while he was waiting. He didn’t have a date for that surgery,” she said. “That period of waiting, and the uncertainty during that time period, is very distressing to patients.”
Two studies cited in the review found more than half of wait-listed patients reported pain, anxiety and depression — 42.1 per cent experienced anxiety and 26.3 per cent experienced depression.
“Hopefully, moving forward, we can use some strategies to mitigate the distress these decisions can have on patients,” Sauro said.