When Carter Thornton woke up on May 12, 2018, he was his regular, frisky little self.
His mother Shelly Bunnah says the two-year-old was alert and behaving as normal. She says Carter threw his bottle in the sink, before she went downstairs to use the washroom.
In just a few minutes she was back upstairs, and little Carter was gone.
“He was not breathing,” she told The Progress. “I did CPR until the ambulance came. The next day he passed away at BC Children’s Hospital.”
Not only is the death of any child tragic. Carter’s death was tragic and unexpected. But Shelly and her husband, Carter’s father Michael Thornton, think it was preventable, and should not have been unexpected.
“There is medical negligence going on in our community and in our country, not just B.C., it’s all over and it’s about time something changes and people start talking about it,” an emotional Bunnah said.
Carter had his first seizure on July 27, 2017. A local pediatrician said it was most likely epilepsy even though Carter had no history of the condition. Week and months passed before an electroencephalogram (EEG) was ordered despite protestations that Carter be given a CT scan.
When he finally had the EEG in March 2018, it turned up nothing, and the doctor finally agreed to order the CT scan at the end of April 2018. Bunnah said Carter was scheduled for the scan in June, but he died before it could be done.
But she also found out the doctor didn’t order the EEG back in summer of 2017 when it should have been ordered. That wasn’t done until February 2018, a delay she says cost her son his life because he didn’t have epilepsy, he died of meningitis and encephalitis.
“Because of that time lapse, my son is gone, because his lack of compassion and love for my child,” she said. “As a parent, you think they are going to care for them. If he would have put in the requisition in August 2017 we would have had results by November, a CT scan by January and they would have found all of this.”
Bunnah visited Chilliwack-Kent Laurie Throness’s office recently to hand him a petition to bring to the provincial Legislature to ask for two changes in the medical system: that medical errors and misdiagnoses be tracked; and that there be a no-fault compensation system created to help victims of medical errors.
“The third leading cause of death in Canada is medical negligence,” Bunnah said. “It needs to stop happening.”
Bunnah filed a complaint with the BC College of Physicians and Surgeons in January, and they expect a decision in a final report by the end of this year.
In the meantime, Bunnah has her petition, which is a copy of a petition created by retired nurse Teri McGrath in the Okanagan who is advocating for no-fault compensation for victims of medical errors.
“There’s no-fault compensation with ICBC if you are in a car accident,” McGrath said last month. “It doesn’t matter who caused it. But if you are banged up, you get help. That’s what we are looking for in the Canadian medical system.”
Back in June, McGrath created an online petition to the federal government Parliament of Canada E-petition website, but a response said, in part, that healthcare is the responsibility of provinces and territories.
In her petition, McGrath takes particular aim at the millions of taxpayer dollars transferred yearly to the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA), the legal body that “engage[s] patients and families in lengthy, expensive hearings.”
“The CMPA needs to go because they are this safety blanket,” Bunnah said. “[Doctors] know they are not going to have to pay for their lawyer and they know damn well that 90 per cent of people abandon their cases because they can’t afford it.”
Throness accepted Bunnah’s petition and he intends to consult with his colleagues to see who else has received them, so that maybe they can present them to the Legislature together.
“Shelley and her family have experienced an enormous tragedy that will affect them for the rest of their lives, and I will be pleased to present the petition on their behalf,” Throness told The Progress. “Medical errors contribute to harm that Canadians suffer, and they must be reduced.
“The idea of a no-fault compensation system is worthy of further study, and I fully support the reporting of medical errors as a way of discovering patterns of behaviour that can be changed to avoid errors in the future.”
When asked to comment on the case and the broader picture, an Ottawa-based CMPA spokesperson said he could not comment on specific cases and added that no-fault systems likely result in greatly reduced compensation for injured patients or significantly higher system costs.
“Canada’s model is grounded in a tort-based compensation system, which is a relatively inexpensive program compared to other models around the world,” according to Dr. Doug Bell, associate executive director and managing director for Safe Medical Care at the CMPA. “It also seeks to ensure that patients proven to have been injured as a result of negligent care receive appropriate compensation.
“The CMPA recognizes that every form of medical liability protection has areas for improvement and we believe every reasonable effort should be made to improve the current system before undertaking radical and, within the Canadian context, unproven change. To that end, we work with the provincial governments (including that in British Columbia), medical regulatory authorities and others to advocate for sensible system improvements.”
– with a file from Robin Grant, Penticton Western News