Alphonsine Winzoski was 87 years old in June 2011 when she was taken to Winnipeg’s Concordia Hospital after an asthma attack.  Her granddaughter, Bobbi Jo Panciera, said the treatment should have been routine.

'They didn't believe she would survive.'—Bobbi Jo Panciera, granddaughter

She was shocked when Winzoski ended up on life support.

"They explained to me at the ICU unit that the machine was breathing for her," Panciera said. "They didn't believe she would survive... We were crying and holding her hand."

Panciera said hospital staff encouraged the family to take her grandmother off  life support.  But after four days in intensive care, the senior’s condition improved.  

Hospital admits mistake

Two weeks after the incident, a doctor from Concordia Hospital contacted Bobbi Jo Panciera and admitted the hospital made a mistake and gave Winzoski another patient’s medication.  

'The drug may or may not have contributed'—Concordia Hospital

One of the pills was Metoprolol, commonly known as a beta blocker.  Warnings for the drug state that people with asthma and other respiratory problems should avoid it.

But while Concordia Hospital admits the drug was administered by mistake, it said that was not the reason for Winzoski’s decline.

One doctor wrote in Winzoski’s file that the drug "may or may not have contributed..." to his patient’s need for life support.

Drug should be used with 'extreme caution'

Dr. Joel Lexchin, who teaches at York University in Toronto and is an expert in pharmaceuticals, said the drug constricts the lungs and can cause breathing difficulty in people with respiratory problems.  

"This a drug that has a number of actions," he said. "One is that it slows the heart down… the lungs constrict and they get narrower."

"If people have either COPD or asthma, and part of the pathology of these diseases is that the airways are already tight, …use it with extreme caution."

Family upset with hospital's response

After CBC started asking questions about the case, Bobbi Jo Panciera received a letter from  Concordia Hospital apologizing "for the error and for stress that it caused."  

"It was possible but not probable that the error was the cause" for Wiznoski's need for life support, the letter says.  The hospital blames "underlying medical issues."

'It doesn't justify…creating a smoke screen' —Bobbi Jo Panciera

Panciera said the hospital is trying to avoid responsibility.  

"I truly understand that you're in a job where mistakes are made and sometimes they're costly," she said. "It doesn't justify how the hospital has behaved or the administrators have behaved towards this situation by creating a smoke screen."

Concordia Hospital and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority turned down CBC's requests for an interview.

 In an email, a spokesperson said the incident prompted the hospital to make a change to the pharmacy order entry process to ensure a double check takes place with the hope it will prevent such medication errors.