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Woman dies after 14-hour wait at B.C. hospital; family wants answers

Family of Luanora Irtenkauf, 55, launches complaint and seeks legal advice

The family of a woman with a chronic health condition is demanding answers about why she died after waiting 14 hours for medical treatment at Abbotsford Regional Hospital.

Hana Raufi said her family does not want the death of her mom, Luanora Irtenkauf, 55, to be “arbitrary.”

“She was in pain. She needed help. But the one place we go that we rely on to help us and make us better not only failed her, but ultimately killed her,” Raufi said.

Irtenkauf had a medical condition called medullary sponge kidneys, which caused her kidneys to chronically produce stones.

Raufi said her mom had had more than 20 surgeries to deal with the blocked stones in her urinary tract.

Her family doctor had Irtenkauf on a standing order for a urine sample whenever she felt symptoms – such as vomiting, lethargy, blood in the urine or abdominal pain – and, if there was an infection, to be immediately placed on antibiotics.

“We’ve done this song and dance so many times already, it’s becoming routine,” Raufi said.

Irtenkauf began feeling ill last Wednesday (Dec. 13), and a urine sample was dropped off to her family doctor, who confirmed on Friday that there was an infection and prescribed an antibiotic.

But due to the vomiting, Irtenkauf was unable to keep the medication in her system, and the family decided she needed to go to the ER later that day.

Raufi said her mom was in “so much pain, crying and howling for help.”

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She said she informed the check-in nurse about her mom’s medical history and that, if the issue wasn’t addressed immediately, her mom could become septic (the infection spreading into the blood).

Raufi said this previously happened to her mom in April and she was hospitalized for 10 days.

“I’d like to think that any competent health care provider would see the history, see the symptoms, put two and two together and understand the importance of acting quickly to ensure they don’t risk her life,” Raufi said.

She said over the next 10 hours, she repeatedly begged hospital staff to admit her mom and to give her something to alleviate the pain, but her concerns were brushed off and they were left in the waiting room.

Raufi said among the reasons provided by workers were that they were understaffed and that her mom’s vital signs were fine.

“When she was finally admitted, the doctor didn’t come to see her for another two hours. All the while the infection was spreading. That’s 12 hours in pain, puking, pale, no medical attention, no antibiotics,” Raufi said.

“ … The whole time, unbeknownst to me, my mother was slowly dying in front of me.”

The doctor ordered a CT scan, blood work and a urine sample, which confirmed there was an infection.

It was another two hours before she received painkillers and IV antibiotics – a total of 14 hours after they had arrived at the hospital.

Raufi said the family was told the CT scan had revealed that an obstruction – possibly in her bowel – was causing her mom’s abdominal pain.

Meanwhile, Irtenkauf was transferred to Chilliwack General Hospital for emergency surgery to remove the kidney stones causing the infection.

The family was told the surgery went well and that Irtenkauf was going to be OK.

But later that night, Irtenkauf was in the intensive care unit in a medically induced coma and unable to breathe on her own.

Raufi and her sister arrived early the next morning.

“They had no idea why she was rapidly fading away, why her blood pressure was falling, why her heart was not functioning, her kidneys failing,” Raufi said.

Irtenkauf died at 7 p.m. on Sunday.

The family has filed an official complaint with the hospital, is seeking legal advice and has arranged an autopsy to determine the exact cause of death.

The hospital’s medical director, Dr. David Liu, said he cannot comment on the specifics of the case but offered his “deepest condolences” to Irtenkauf’s family.

He said the hospital is reviewing the situation and will be speaking with them.

Liu said when a patient arrives at the ER they are assessed – including their past medical history – and their vitals are taken.

Liu said hospital staff try to gather “the most complete picture of a patient’s history as possible” and obtain blood work and perform other diagnostic tests.

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He said that Abbotsford is not unique to long ER waits, often due to a shortage of doctors and other hospital staff.

“We are currently experiencing shortages in all aspects of human resources, and the other issue is we’re experiencing an increase in volume of patients, also an aging population and more complex patients,” he said.

Health Minister Adrian Dix told Black Press Media that the province is doing “a dozen things” to address long ER waits. He pointed to urgent and primary care centres and more long-term care facilities and supports.

“In many cases, we need resources in the emergency rooms, as well. But what frequently happens – and the challenge in the emergency room – isn’t just a wait time to get care, to get triage. We have outstanding emergency rooms who do an unbelievable job at that. It’s also the fact that there may not be room on the wards for people to leave the emergency room, and this is frequently what the issue is for health-care workers,” he said.

“All of what the hospital does as a whole affects what happens in the emergency room. The issues in the emergency room are often a symptom of other things that are going on in the health-care system.”

Raufi said her family wants justice for her mom.

“I don’t want her death to be arbitrary. She isn’t just vitals on a screen, a patient on a waiting list. She is a human being with feelings, hopes and dreams, people to love that love her too,” Raufi said.

“ … Now she will not be part of my wedding party. She will not help raise my kids. She will not be my travel buddy or a phone call away when I need guidance. She is gone.”

– with a file from Lauren Collins, Black Press Media