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Close Encounters with Science: Picks

Premature by Johanna Van Zanten

My temporary assignment had come to an end. I would not see 19-year-old Candace and her baby Amy anymore in a professional capacity.  To my surprise, one Saturday morning a few months later I got a call from Candace.

“Hi, I am just calling to tell you that Amy has died. I thought you would want to know.” I was stunned, could not reply right away, then I stammered after some seconds:

“How can that be, what happened?

“Amy was sick, she had a fever and was throwing up, so I went to the hospital, but they sent me away and said Amy was fine, just a flue, and to give her water or juice. Then a couple of hours later I went again, and again they sent me home. Then Amy was just pale and not moving anymore, so I went again, with James too and he got mad at the doctor, so the doctor sent Amy by air ambulance to Edmonton. I was with her on the way to the hospital; she died in the ambulance.”

“Oh, Candace, that is terrible. How could that have happened? Why did the doctor not listen to you? How are you coping? Is there anything that I can do?” I asked.

“There is nothing that can be done now. The doctor in the hospital has apologized to us and said he did not realize how serious it was. I know there are other Native women in town that bring their babies to the hospital when they want a night off, but I never did that. They asked later if there was anything they could do, but I wouldn’t know what could be done now.”

“What did the doctor say why she was sick?” I barely kept my composure, but felt I needed to, as Candace and James were calm and dignified.

“She had a scar inside her from the feeding tube and that part of her small intestine blocked her intestines as she grew bigger. It poisoned her from the inside out. It is something that happens often to premature babies, they told me.” She moved as if in physical pain. James just sat there, defeated, quiet.

“They were at fault in the hospital, Candace.  Just because you are young and First Nations, that does not mean your family should get less proper treatment.”

“I know. That’s just the way it is. I can’t change that. You have always been good to us. I want to give something to you,” she said while she handed over a small piece of yellow paper with something on it.

When I saw what it was, I wept.  Candace had given me a print of Amy’s 1 ½ inch small right foot, at the preemie ICU, born premature at 24 weeks when a team of professionals saved her life. In the end, all the technological advancements in the world could not keep Amy alive when low-tech prejudice prevented her from surviving the second time.


Johanna Van Zanten is from Kelowna, BC

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