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B.C. baby's cancelled heart surgery comes as respiratory illnesses create long waits at hospitals


A Vancouver Island family whose six-month-old baby had his heart surgery cancelled this month is calling on the province to do a better job of dealing with capacity issues, as the opposition accuses the new premier of neglecting the health-care file.

For the first day this week, David Eby didn't hold a news conference nor announce a new program, funding or policy Thursday. This week, he's unveiled new priorities in housing and public safety.

In bringing up health-care woes, BC Liberal MLA Shirley Bond took note of that.

"The premier is out making a blizzard of announcements and pouring money into areas that he's trying to fix after he had those files for more than six years, and at the same time has failed to make a single comment on the state of health care in British Columbia. Meanwhile, the crisis has gotten worse," the MLA for Prince George-Valemount said, leading into her question about a baby who had his heart surgery cancelled.

That baby is Nash Lee. He's six months old, and was born with a hole in his heart. Nash was scheduled for surgery at BC Children’s Hospital on Nov. 16. It was cancelled.

His dad Robbie Veenhof said he and his wife were in Vancouver for the surgery when they heard.

"We were given reasons of, you know, there were physical beds available but no resources, so nurses, staff and other things available to care for the patients in those beds," he explained.

Dejected, they headed home, and heard a briefing from health officials, talking about how extra beds had been freed up to help with an expected surge in demand due to the fall respiratory season.

Veenhof said he and his wife were disturbed by what they heard.

"We kind of felt like we were getting – and everybody was getting – half the message," he said.

The family praises health-care workers, but says the system needs help.

"It's not going to be an overnight fix," Veenhof added. "But we're hopeful that stories from citizens and the reality of what's happening kind of forces them to look deep and make some changes."

The province announced in September that it had a plan to deal with an expected surge in demand. Because kids hadn't gotten the flu in the past two years, it was expected that and other respiratory viruses could hit them hard. That's turned out to be the case. So far, the health minister has downplayed the impact of pediatric surgeries that have been cancelled.

Liberal leader Kevin Falcon wonders if more could've been done.

"Now, what you have is the government that just continues to do more of the same and seems to be surprised that they’re not getting any better results. They will not get better results unless they have the courage to make big changes in the system," he told reporters at the legislature Thursday.

Health Minister Adrian Dix acknowledged the pressures hospitals and emergency rooms faced, and that things could get worse.

"It's difficult everywhere, especially our pediatric units are dealing with it everywhere, and so what that means is we have to continue those preparations," Dix said. "We will take other steps if we need to to make sure space is available."

The health minister says it's going to be a bad season and non-urgent surgeries could be suspended if needed. While surgeries are already being cancelled, he alluded to a larger program similar to 2020, when there were widespread cancellations. He said it's a step the province wouldn't take lightly.

Nash is now scheduled for surgery on Jan. 4. Veenhof told CTV News between six and nine months is the best time for babies to get the surgery Nash needs. In the six weeks before, he can't get sick, so the family is hunkering down for the holidays.

"Life is kind of locked down in COVID for us," he said.  


This story has been updated to correct the baby's name. It is Nash Lee, not Nash Veenhof. Top Stories

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