'There was absolutely no reason for him to die': Winnipeg man takes own life hours after discharge from ER

A Winnipeg family is heartbroken and calling out the health-care system after a 49-year-old man took his own life, less than 24 hours after being discharged from the Health Sciences Centre.

Terrance Van Dyke, 49, killed himself on Wednesday

Van Dyke lived with full-body pain for months without a diagnosis in the lead up to his death, Caroline Gallagher said. (Ashlet Gallagher/Facebook))

The family of Terrance Van Dyke, 49, says he killed himself less than 24 hours after being discharged from Health Sciences Centre and that he told them he warned hospital officials that he would return — but he'd be dead.

"That was the last thing that he said to my mom, is telling [her] what he said to the hospital: 'Mark my words, I will be back here, but I will not be alive,'" said Ashley Gallagher, Van Dyke's stepdaughter.

His Winnipeg family is heartbroken and calling out the health-care system after Van Dyke killed himself last week.

Caroline Gallagher walked in on Van Dyke, her common-law husband, as he tried to hang himself on the evening of Monday, July 17.

Caroline Gallagher, left, stopped her husband, Terrance Van Dyke, from killing himself last week, but he tried again less than 24 hours after he left hospital, where his family had taken him to find help. (Caroline Gallagher/Facebook)

Van Dyke had lived with all-over body pain for four or five months without any diagnosis, Caroline Gallagher said. He told his family he couldn't live with the pain anymore and he was afraid it was evidence of a terminal condition.

Caroline prevented Van Dyke from taking his own life that night, but two days later, on Wednesday, Van Dyke was still having suicidal thoughts and still in pain.

Ashley Gallagher said she spent two hours that day, begging him to go to the emergency room at Health Sciences Centre for help.

When he agreed, she thought he would be safe.

"I just figured 'OK, he's going in. He's going to get the help he needs. I can relax a little bit,'" she said.

When Van Dyke went to the hospital around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, he and his stepson waited for eight hours before he was seen.

Ashley said her stepfather told the doctor about his ongoing pain, suicide attempt and continued suicidal thoughts, but the doctor told him there was nothing they could do.

Shortly after his stepson left to go to work, around 6:30 a.m., Van Dyke was discharged from the hospital, alone, Ashley said. He told his family he was escorted out by security because he was getting loud, saying he needed help.

Later that day, as his wife was resting, Van Dyke wrote a four-page letter to his family and then took his own life in the bathtub of their home.

Ashley believes if he'd been given psychiatric care, her stepfather would still be alive.

'Hopeless, alone'

The health-care system failed her stepfather, she said.

"He needed psychiatric care and he was refused. They turned him down," she said. "All that rejection made him feel probably hopeless, alone."

Doctors at Winnipeg ERs ask a series of questions to assess the risk level for people who come in with suicidal thoughts, said Lori Lamont, the vice-president of interprofessional practice for the health authority.

The questions don't take a "significant length of time," she said, but are asked repeatedly throughout the person's stay to determine what should happen next in their care.

Lamont said a crucial factor is whether or not the individual has a plan about how to take their own lives. 

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority has launched an investigation into Van Dyke's experience at the hospital.

"Certainly, we are very concerned and are very sympathetic to this family in terms of their loss, and also certainly understand that they are looking for answers, as we are as well, to understand what happened in this situation," Lamont said.

Lamont said the investigation will include a consultation with Van Dyke's family and estimated it will take several weeks to conclude.

'Unnecessary deaths'

Bonnie Bricker, the director of the family navigation program at the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba, said resources exist to help people considering suicide, but the health-care system needs to do a better job teaching people how to access them.

"I wish I could say it surprised me. I'm disappointed and frustrated, but I am not surprised," Bricker said of Van Dyke's experience.

Bricker's son, Reid Bricker, was 33 years old when he was discharged from the hospital in the middle of the night in October 2015, after attempting suicide three times in 10 days. His remains were identified last August after being found in the Red River near Selkirk in June 2016.

ERs aren't adequately staffed to deal with people who come in expressing suicidal thoughts, she said. She believes peer support workers and additional psychiatric nurses in emergency departments could make the difference for people in Van Dyke's situation.

"My heart breaks for him because there was absolutely no reason for him to die. There's lots of people who could have helped him," Bricker said of Van Dyke.

Ashley Gallagher hopes her stepfather's story will help create change in the health-care system.

"People need to be taking it more seriously instead of having unnecessary deaths like this," she said.

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