Devastated Nunavut family buries wrong baby after mistake by hospital

A family from Nunavut say they were given the wrong body by a Winnipeg hospital after the death of their baby, and had to hold a second funeral once they received the right remains.

Baby was already buried when officials arrived to tell parents it was someone else's child

Tony Alagalak, Alice Kinak and their family. After the couple's son was buried in Arviat, Nunavut, officials from the Winnipeg hospital where he died arrived in the community to tell the parents they had sent the wrong body. (Tony Alagalak/Facebook)

A family from Nunavut say they were given the wrong body by a Winnipeg hospital after the death of their baby.

Alice Kinak and her partner, Tony Alagalak, went to the health centre in Arviat, Nunavut, on April 19 around 7 p.m. Kinak, who was more than eight months pregnant, went to the health centre as she was having contractions.

The baby was born in Arviat, and came out in an "unusual" way, Alagalak said, and CPR was administered.

The small health centre in the community with a population of about 2,600 was not equipped to help them. 

"That's when things got really bad," said Alagalak. "Our son had nothing to get monitored by; there was no one experienced to give birth in town, and the worst part is we had to wait for the medevac plane to come in."

Alagalak said his son was in "critical condition." They then had to wait more than four hours for the medevac aircraft to arrive; it took another three hours before Kinak landed in Winnipeg, where she was taken to St. Boniface Hospital.

The baby boy died in the hospital, though it's not clear when.

My goodness, that's such a huge mistake.​​​​​- Hattie Alagalak, grandmother

Kinak returned to Arviat alone, mourning her son. The hospital sent the baby's body to the community soon after.

"It was our baby, they said it was our baby that came in," Alagalak said. "So we buried him here in Arviat with a funeral and everything with my family."

Officials arrive in Arviat

On May 15, officials from St. Boniface arrived in the community and the family was called to the health centre. Alagalak said the family didn't know what the meeting was about.

His grandmother, Hattie Alagalak, was asked to help deliver the news.

"They said they made a mistake ... and brought the wrong body to Arviat," Hattie Alagalak told CBC in Inuktitut.

"My goodness, that's such a huge mistake."

The baby boy died in St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg. (CBC)

Hattie Alagalak says it was devastating and shocking.

"They said they're going to dig the baby out from the grave and once the coffin is out, they'll take it back with them to Winnipeg."

St. Boniface Hospital would not say how the mistake happened or who the body in Arviat belonged to. In an email to CBC, the hospital said it's only communicating with the families involved.

"St. Boniface Hospital has an obligation to respect the confidentiality and privacy of all our patients and families," the email said. "Our practice is to reach out to them directly about the specifics of their situation and their health information."

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority deferred questions to the hospital, saying it would not comment on the mix-up.

Family wants explanation

The body of the couple's son eventually arrived in Arviat, and another burial was planned. But the family is still waiting for answers.

"I would really like to know who made that mistake and why it happened," Tony Alagalak said. "I don't think that should ever happen. It was like putting an extra thousand pounds on my shoulders knowing that our son was misplaced."

He said the nurses in Arviat did everything they could, but he wants to see better health services in the Nunavut community.

"I just hope more people speak up. We deserve better as Inuit, as our people. We're Canadians too. We don't deserve any less than other Canadians, right?"

Written by Katherine Barton, based on reporting by Jordan Konek