Film aims to prevent patients falling through cracks in health system

A family's efforts to improve a flawed system have culminated in a documentary about their son's preventable death.

It shows how Calgary's Greg Price died after delays, gaps in testicular cancer treatment

Greg Price was an active young man who enjoyed flying a plane, playing sports and spending time on the farm. (Price Family)

The tragic death of a 31-year-old Calgary man is helping fill cracks in a health-care system that can fail patients.

Greg Price, an athletic man, died from testicular cancer, considered a very treatable disease. He had tried to get treatment for what initially looked to be a few minor medical issues but it developed into a serious illness.

Then began a series of delays and a lack of answers, from long waits for referrals and test results to doctors taking vacation.

He finally ended up in surgery to remove the cancerous testicle, and medical professionals declared how surprised they were he hadn't been treated sooner.

Three days later, Price died in his family's home from a blood clot.

Greg Price was 31-years-old when he died of a blood clot following surgery for testicular cancer. (Submitted by Price family)

His family took his death as a calling to change the broken system they believe led to his death.

Now their efforts have resulted in a teaching documentary that shows the painful process Price went through.

The film has been shown to medical students to illustrate the gaps created by the large health-care system. It's also being shown to bring awareness to the public so they push for change and know to advocate for good treatment. Meanwhile, patients have to self advocate until the system is fixed.

"The system really isn't built to be connected very well. There's lot of different pockets of great people trying to do the best they can, but it's not a natural thing to actually have connections between the different segments," Greg's father, David Price, told the Calgary Eyeopener on Thursday.

"Unless there's strong and active engagement on the patient or family doc's part, or at least someone carrying the ball there, then there can be gaps in the system, and that costs great time — and ultimately was a factor."

David Price is a farmer and the father of Greg Price. He's pushed for improvements in the health-care system. (CBC)

The film, Falling through the Cracks: Greg's Story, will be screened Thursday evening at the Plaza Theatre in Calgary's Kensington district. Tickets are sold out for the show and the accompanying panel of medical experts. The next Calgary viewing and public engagement is June 5.

"This is where as a system we're really indebted to the Price family for their contribution of this story," said Dr. William Ghali, scientific director of the O'Brien Institute for Public Health at the Cumming School of Medicine.

"From the day they lost Greg, they have committed to dialogue around change and to working with organizations in the city."

Dr. William Ghali is the director of the O'Brien Institute for Public Health at the Cumming School of Medicine. (CBC)

After Price's death, his family looked for answers and turned to the Health Quality Council of Alberta. The provincial watchdog group reviewed his treatment and death, and found specialist appointments took too long to book, follow up care following a CT scan never happened and when his legs starting swelling before surgery, Price couldn't reach the surgeon. 

The organization recommended the province give patients access to their own health records and set up an electronic portal to access them — a daunting technical task.

"This has brought a spotlight to how the system needs to adapt, and some of the changes that are needed are happening now, which is encouraging," Ghali said.

The documentary shows re-enactments of what Greg Price went through when he was trying to get his cancer treated, like when doctors expressed surprise at how long it took him to receive treatment. (Greg's Wings)

Now they're travelling the country to show the film, shot in part on the family farm. They hope to encourage members of the public to talk about their own experiences and what could fill those cracks in the health-care system.

'Taken some work'

Bureaucracy is always tricky to navigate, they note, but in health care, lives are on the line and situations can escalate quickly.

But those systems are hard to change. The family has had to work hard with people inside the system and those most affected — so other families don't have to go through what they did.

"There is obviously some frustration over time because our world is farming and food and being able to make decisions and make things happen without a lot of impediment. It's taken some work," Price said.

"You can understand there are lots of people who are defensive and a little worried about change, but our world is one that you have to. You have to move it forward."

With files from Josie Lukey and the Calgary Eyeopener.