“He had 92 days as an adult,” Lee Pratt said of his son.
Aidan Pratt’s final weeks in Oliver were a parent’s worst nightmare. The 19-year-old was one of 12 people to catch a meningococcal infection before the Interior Health Authority publicly announced the outbreak in mid-December.
As IH prepares to declare the outbreak over next week, the Pratts are still looking for answers, and they feel like they’ve been left high and dry months after Aidan’s death.
Related: IH ready to declare meningococcal outbreak over
pic2Despite his parents’ insistence he told his doctor he had been in contact with a meningococcal patient, Aidan’s family would not get confirmation he tested positive until about a month after his death.
Aidan not only contracted meningococcal disease, but he was also attempting to get help with some stomach issues he and his father suffered from. It is still unclear whether he died of a gastrointestinal bleed or the meningitis, but his parents said he seemed to receive little help on either front.
Aidan initially went to the hospital on Sept. 21, where he waited three hours, with an expected wait time up to another five hours. When he and other patients were advised they make follow-up appointments with their doctors, Aidan called his family doctor.
When he was given an Oct. 6 appointment, Lesley Pratt, his mother, said she told Aidan to call back. Aidan was given the opportunity to call in each day and see if any appointments had cancelled, and he was eventually able to get into the doctor’s office on Sept. 27.
Related: Meningococcal disease outbreak declared in Okanagan
“He explained the situation of the girl in regards to the meningitis,” Lesley said.
“I normally am an advocate for him, so I’m usually present at these meetings. He didn’t want me to come because he was now 19, he could do this on his own. … All those years I thought I was his biggest advocate. I was there for him at all his appointments and made sure that I was on top of things.”
The grieving parents also said Aidan told the doctor about the symptoms he had been suffering from with the upper-GI issues, for which the doctor had treated Lee for years.
Despite that, Aidan’s parents said the doctor didn’t send the young man for any of the same tests his father had been put through for those same issues, but only came out with a protein pump inhibitor to reduce acid production in the stomach — something Lee compared with putting a coat of paint on a rain-stained roof.
Related: Interior Health expands meningococcal precautions in South Okanagan
“And we know that in his doctor’s appointment, the last doctor’s appointment, we know that he mentioned that he had splitting headaches and can’t sleep at night. Classic meningitis. (He was) exhausted,” Lee said. “Our doctor is in our community. He’s aware — or should be aware — of any outbreaks. They’d already announced it at the school.”
He was living on a farm with a friend and his friend’s grandmother at the time, and after coming back from Kelowna on Thanksgiving, he went back to work just one day, before getting too sick.
He died in a bathroom on the farm on Oct. 12 last year.
“We think … it was in his brain because he was almost to the point — delirious, going blind and thrashing around and he couldn’t get to the door to unlock the door,” Lesley said.
By the time paramedics got to the farm, Aidan had died.
Related: Two confirmed cases of meningococcal disease in Oliver
Aidan’s parents said they were unable to see their son for two days after his death.
pic”My son died a couple days earlier. I just want to see him, I want to hold him,” Lee said through tears. “Nobody wants to hold their cold, dead son. You don’t want to walk in and see your baby wrapped up in white plastic.”
An interview request with IH chief medical officer Trevor Corneil went unanswered. In a media scrum last Friday, IH CEO Chris Mazurkewich declined to comment on whether the health authority should have provided better notice to the community until “all the evidence is in front of us,” which he said would still be a few weeks.
Aidan had just arrived back in Oliver from working up north, and when he returned he made the rounds with friends from around the Okanagan and Similkameen.
Related: Meningococcal immunization clinics announced
“Hundreds of people he had been in contact with while he was communicable,” Lesley said. “Our son went to the hospital, then the doctor on the 27th, then he was dead 15 days later.”
“When they knew there was an outbreak,” Lee added.
Even if it was the GI bleed that killed Lee, his parents said the meningitis was so severe he would have suffered serious complications, which can include gangrene, partial or total hearing or eyesight loss and brain damage.
pic3The family was used to fighting for Aidan — they had been since he was born.
“It’s hard because our personal triumph with Aidan. He wasn’t breathing at birth,” Lesley said. “He didn’t fit into the school system because the school system wasn’t set up for kids that are made like Aidan, because Aidan was special. He was with his dad, working with his dad, succeeding in his own way, in the way that he knew how to succeed.”
Related: Extra meningococcal immunization clinics added
“We did everything we could in his short life so he’d have a life,” Lee added, noting Aidan had mild Asperger syndrome and behavioural issues.
After the family threw a celebration of life for Aidan on Oct. 21, which they said was attended by about 200, Lee said he got a call from Corneil to say Aidan tested positive for meningococcal infection and that there was a carrier in the group.
Because Interior Health’s own investigation into the issue has not been completed, and because no cause of death has yet been determined, Aidan’s parents said they feel like they’ve been left hanging dry for months since his death.
If the family wanted to sue their physician, they said they would be outgunned by lawyers, with the backing of the Canadian Medical Protective Association. According to the CMPA website, members are eligible for assistance “in the form of legal representation, and payment of legal costs, judgments, or settlements to compensate patients when it is determined they were harmed by negligent care.”
“As a contractor, if myself or any of my employees break, destroy, mess up something on a job site, I’m accountable and responsible to fix that. Not lawyer up and hide,” Lee said.
Related: Interior Health extends immunization clinics
Mazurkewich told reporters last week there was oversight from Interior Health, as well as from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C. The latter group does take complaints from the public regarding physicians, according to its website.
The college, which a spokesperson said in an email takes about 1,000 complaints a year, relays complaints to physicians, who can send a response, and then the complainant is given another opportunity to respond before an investigation is opened.
Among the outcomes, if the college is critical of the physician, the college may speak with the physician about the issue and where he or she erred, provide help to improve their practice, provide a warning or take disciplinary actions.
Disciplinary actions were not elaborated on by the spokesperson or the website.
But the family said they want to see the legal protection afforded by the CMPA changed.
“In a generation, our names will be forgotten. In a generation, our son’s name will be forgotten,” Lesley said.
Lee said he wants to make sure that doesn’t happen.
“(How do we) change legislation, change laws so that my son’s name gets written in law so that he’s never forgotten?”