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B.C. family says 23-year-old woman died after misdiagnosis, prompting calls for accountability

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B.C.'s provincial health-care system is under scrutiny following the death of a 23-year-old woman in Nanaimo.

The mental health worker’s family, friends and employer believe the tragic outcome was preventable – only by the time an infection was diagnosed it was too late.

“I just really want somebody to take accountability,” says Sophia’s mother Melonie, who asked that neither of them be identified by their last names.

Her daughter started showing signs of illness in March 2023. She took a leave of absence from her job as a mental health worker at Nanaimo’s Unitarian Shelter in June.

Through her care, Sophia consulted doctors at a walk-in site for young people, and tried accessing the city’s lone Urgent and Primary Care Centre, since she didn’t have a family physician of her own.

“The first misdiagnosis was that she had some kind of eating disorder. And you know, she knew she was trying to eat. She didn’t think that was the problem,” says Paul Manly, the shelter’s executive director and a Nanaimo city councillor advocating on behalf of the family.

Manly and Sophia’s mom say she visited Nanaimo Regional General Hospital twice. The first time, in October, she was diagnosed with hemorrhoids. The second time she was airlifted to St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver – and died two days later from sepsis on Nov. 26, 2023.

“By the time they figured out what was going on the infection had taken over her body,” says Melonie.

“It’s completely unacceptable. It’s completely avoidable. And here you have somebody who stepped up to help people in crisis in our community and then they can’t get the help that they need,” says Manly.

Sophia’s family has filed patient care complaints with the College of Surgeons and Physicians and Island Health, neither of which can comment on the details of the case due to privacy laws.

“Without commenting on this particular case, it’s obvious to everybody: It’s a lot easier to get looked after if you have a family doctor or a nurse practitioner supporting your care and our government is doing all we can to make sure that is a reality for British Columbians,” says B.C. premier David Eby.

Conservative MLA Bruce Banman brought up Sophia’s death in question period: “Mr. Speaker, will this premier admit that the health-care system in British Columbia is broken under this NDP government?”

Health Minister Adrian Dix replied calling Sophia’s situation a "serious case."

“We have a process for independent review that hopefully will also bring some answers. And it’s difficult under the circumstances of someone dying so young to bring comfort, but to bring knowledge of circumstances and seeks improvement and review of the system, (and) also justice for people and that’s what we’re doing in that case,” he says.

As for the overall health-care system, Dix says the province has hired 700 new family doctors in the last year since revamping a compensation model – and that their work continues.

Manly says Sophia was keen to help others and describes her as a "go-getter" and a "rising star."

“(She had) such a promising life ahead of her,” he says. “She should be alive. She should be on shift this week.”

Her mom believes a family doctor would’ve made a difference in her daughter’s case – someone who would have seen her regularly, known her and noticed her decline.

“They weren’t really seeing her,” she says.

“I don’t want her death to be in vain. I want changes. I don’t want to see any other family have to go through this again. This is a (developed) country, our system should not be crumbling the way that it is.”

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