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Seriously injured woman transferred from Smithers to Kitimat as COVID overwhelms hospital

Cathy Whalen was transferred because Bulkley Valley hospital was overwhelmed with COVID patients

The husband of a seriously injured woman is angry she was moved from Smithers to Kitimat to make room for COVID patients.

On September 11, Don Goalder and Cathy Whalen were traveling on Old Babine Lake Road near Smithers, when another driver crossed the centre line and hit them, sending them rolling down a five-metre high embankment.

“I don’t know how many times we rolled over, but when we came to a stop we were facing the way we had come, with the vehicle on its side,” Goalder explained.

“I managed to struggle out of my seatbelt and break a window to get out, but Cathy was hanging nearly upside down by her seatbelt. If she wasn’t wearing it, I doubt she would have survived.”

With the quick help of an off-duty firefighter and other people who stopped, Cathy was extracted from the car and both were taken to Bulkley Valley District Hospital.

“As far as I know, the driver who hit us was not injured,” said Goalder.

Goalder suffered minor injuries and was released. Whalen’s injuries, however, included cracked vertebrae and a broken pelvis. The doctors anticipated a two-week or more recovery time in the hospital.

The couple assumed that time would be spent in Smithers. They were wrong.

After several days, the couple was told it was going to be necessary to move Whalen to the hospital in Kitimat, not due to her injuries, but due to the influx of people being admitted to hospital with COVID-19. The hospital needed her bed.

This transfer required Whalen, still in significant pain, to be taken to the airport by ambulance where she was placed on an aircraft, flown to Terrace (a 20-minute flight), and placed in another ambulance for the 35-minute drive to Kitimat.

“It pissed me off at first,” Goalder exclaimed. “It means my seriously injured wife is being punted to Kitimat, where she has no family or support.

“I don’t know where the other patients are being shipped, but because of the recent flood of COVID cases, it’s probably the only realistic choice Northern Health had.

“We were told patients without pelvic injuries, including maternity, are being shifted elsewhere by ambulance.

“The hospital has been inundated with COVID cases, almost every one of them are unvaccinated people. The result is that other patients are being removed from that hospital, whether to make room or for infection control, I don’t know.

“The anti-vaxxers have certainly made their mark on our community and on my family.”

Whalen remains in Kitimat General Hospital.

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Medical staff at Bulkley Valley District Hospital urge everyone to continue to follow public health guidelines to combat the spread of coronavirus. (File photo)