Detour due to bridge closure in the Gaspé nearly costs lives of mother, baby

A 36-weeks-pregnant mother in distress and her unborn baby were minutes from death after their ambulance was forced to take the 11.5-kilometre detour caused by a bridge closure on the Gaspé Peninsula.

Paramedics describe harrowing 11.5-km detour with patient, 36 weeks pregnant, minutes from death

Pierre-Luc Desjardins poses with the newborn he was scared would die, Louis Desjardins, and his proud big sister, Rosalie. (Submitted by: Pierre-Luc Desjardins)

Pierre-Luc Desjardins nearly lost his wife and unborn son a week ago, and paramedics say the detour they were forced to take because of a bridge closure on the Grand Cascapédia River cost precious minutes in what was a critical situation.

"Five more minutes and they probably would have lost the baby," said paramedic Mike Geraghty, who drove the ambulance from New Richmond to Maria — under normal circumstances, a 15-minute trip.

"It was extremely critical. When we arrived at the hospital we didn't even stop, we didn't even slow down in the emergency room. We went straight up to the operating room."

Geraghty says only twice in his 32-year career has he had to wheel a patient directly into the OR.

Paramedic Mike Geraghty says only twice in his 32-year career has a patient been wheeled directly from the ambulance to the OR. (Marika Wheeler/CBC)

Placenta previa led to bleeding

Marie-Line Barriault was diagnosed with a condition called placenta previa, in which the placenta attaches too close to the cervix, causing potentially dangerous complications.

"I knew if she started bleeding, it was an emergency," said Desjardins in an exclusive interview with CBC.

Last Thursday, when Barriault, then 36 weeks pregnant, started bleeding profusely, Desjardins called 911 immediately.

"I was stressed out about the bridge," Desjardins said. "I was scared for my wife, I was scared for my baby."

Geraghty's partner, paramedic Guylène Levesque, treated Barriault on the way to the hospital. She said the woman's blood pressure was dangerously low, and she lost consciousness several times during the ambulance trip.

Happy ending

Desjardins arrived at the hospital just in time to see his son born, delivered by emergency C-section.

"When the little baby came out, he started to cry, so everyone was really happy," he said, relieved and grateful for the good work of the paramedics and hospital staff.

"It was stressful, but it ended well."

Barriault and baby Louis are back home in New Richmond with Desjardins and Louis's big sister Rosalie, 6.

The bridge over the Grand Cascapédia River on Highway 132 has been closed to traffic since May 8 because a support pillar shifted, causing a depression of the roadway. (Marika Wheeler/CBC)

Detour for some time to come

The ambulance detour was made necessary by Transports Québec's closing of the bridge on Highway 132 on May 8, after a pillar shifted, causing a big dip in the roadway.

It's not yet known how long motorists will have to take the 11.5-kilometre detour on rural roads that are sometimes too narrow and winding to allow emergency vehicles to pass other traffic. The water level on the Grand Cascapédia remains high, and the swift current and debris have made it impossible for divers to do an underwater inspection of the tilting pillar.

A Transport Ministry spokesperson says work will begin next week to improve the rural roads being used for the detour.

Details aren't yet available, but improvements to intersections to improve the flow of traffic are planned.

More resources during closure

Paramedics have asked officials at the regional health board, the CISSS de la Gaspésie, to staff a second ambulance full time for the duration of the bridge closure to reduce response times.

Geraghty said one ambulance dispatched from New Richmond is staffed 24 hours per day, while a second team is on call in another municipality

He said the detour adds 20 to 40 minutes, round trip, to the hospital in Maria, 15 kilometres west of New Richmond on the opposite side of the river.

"This case had a good outcome," Geraghty said. "Hopefully it doesn't take a bad outcome before they react."

A spokesperson for the CISSS de la Gaspésie said, however, even with the bridge closure and current staffing, established response times are still within required limits.


Marika Wheeler

Radio-Canada journalist

Marika is based in Quebec City, where, after a 14-year career at CBC, she is now a member of Radio-Canada's enterprise journalism team.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Account Holder

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?