Critically injured Hamilton man who was stuck in Costa Rica makes it home

After a bone-shattering fall in a Costa Rican jungle and a harrowing search for a bed in Ontario’s overcrowded hospitals, Hamilton's David Ronald is finally back home.

'I could hear the back break and the bones crunching'

David Ronald (left) broke his pelvis, back, shoulder and arm after falling over three and a half metres in a Costa Rican jungle last week. (Kristen Ronald)

After a bone-shattering fall in a Costa Rican jungle and a harrowing search for a bed in Ontario's overcrowded hospitals, Hamilton's David Ronald is finally back home.

The Dofasco retiree was on a medevac flight flanked by doctors and nurses yesterday, and landed in Ontario at 10:30 p.m. Thursday night.

"It's just so nice to be back," Ronald told CBC News from Hamilton General Hospital, where he's staying for further treatment and rehabilitation.

"It's been a heck of a week."

Ronald's story broke on Wednesday after a news conference from provincial NDP leader Andrea Horwath, in which she outlined the couple's plight, and blamed what was happened on the province's overburdened health-care system. Ronald, his wife Kristen, and Horwath all say that he was stuck in Costa Rica after emergency surgery, because no hospital beds were available for him back in Ontario.

I could hear the back break and the bones crunching.- David Ronald

The province, by contrast, maintains there were critical care beds available last weekend, and says the problem may rest with the couple's insurer.

Ronald's ordeal began on Feb. 15, when he and his wife Kristen were visiting friends who live in Pavones, a small community located along the southern Pacific Coast.

David and his wife were sleeping on a large deck at their friend's home. David woke up at around 2 a.m., and slipped and fell over three-and-a-half metres off the deck, breaking his pelvis, back, shoulder and arm.

"I hit the ground and it was excruciating pain," he said. "I could hear the back break and the bones crunching."

Driving out of the jungle on a backboard in a pickup truck

The situation looked dire. But luckily, the friend they were visiting is a paramedic. He managed to get David stable, and they drove him 50 minutes out of the jungle on a makeshift backboard in the back of a pickup truck to the nearest medical facility.

Ronald was rushed into emergency surgery to repair his pelvis. Once that was successful, his insurance company planned to fly him home for a second surgery to repair his back.

There was just one problem, they said — there were no beds available.

The province says there were ICU beds available throughout the Hamilton region over the weekend.

But if that was the case, Ronald says, why did a bed only open up after he and his wife went public in the media with their story?

'A blame game'

"There's no way there were beds," he said. "The insurance company was calling Critical Care Canada, they do the legwork for that, and they were saying there were no beds available.

"There's a lot of back peddling going on — a blame game."

In a statement sent last week, Minister of Health Dr. Eric Hoskins offered his "deepest concern" for Ronald and his family.

"I know our health care professionals on the ground, LHIN staff responsible for regional care coordination and staff in the Ministry are always willing to go the extra mile to ensure the highest quality of care for Ontarians," he said.

Now back in Hamilton, Ronald says he's looking at around 10 weeks of rehabilitation for his injuries.

Even with this ordeal so fresh in his mind, he says he'd still go back to Costa Rica.

"It's a beautiful country — but just make sure you stay safe."

adam.carter@cbc.ca

About the Author

Adam Carter

Reporter, CBC Hamilton

Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Hamilton home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music in dank bars. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.

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