Saskatoon

Yorkton family says delay as paramedics dressed in COVID-19 protective gear contributed to son's death

A Yorkton family is concerned that the delay caused by paramedics getting into COVID-19 protective gear may have cost their son his life.

Paramedic says COVID-19 'has completely flipped our world upside down'

James Jacobs. (Christies Funeral Home)

June Jacobs says she watched her 35-year-old son having a seizure on the family's living room floor for 10 minutes while paramedics stepped outside to change into gear designed to protect them from COVID-19.

James Jacobs died five minutes after paramedics returned into the home, June said in an interview.

"They all went, all four of them went, there wasn't anybody left with him. He was still seizuring," she said.

"They said he had the virus."

Kelly Prime, paramedic chief with Crestvue Ambulance in Yorkton, said he cannot discuss the specifics of the April 4 call to the Jacobs house because of privacy rules. But he said that he's spent a lot of time since thinking about what happened.

"I don't know what the outcome would've been if we didn't have to take PPE (personal protective equipment). Do I believe it would have changed? I just don't know," he said.

"It's not isolated, it's not the only story I've heard. I've heard those stories across the province."

A typical Saturday

James Jacobs was born with cerebral palsy. In his obituary, family describe a funny, active man who didn't let the disability stop him from living a full and interesting life.

On the evening of Saturday, April 4, he was having dinner at his parent's home. June said he began complaining of not feeling well after finishing a plate of perogies.

She helped him to the bathroom. That's when she noticed he was running a fever. She said his cerebral palsy wreaked havoc on his body's ability to regulate its temperature.

In minutes, he showed signs of a seizure. He had seizures as a teen, but not since reaching adulthood, June said.

She and her husband tried to get medication under his tongue but his jaw had locked, so they called 911. They were alarmed but still only believed that, at worst, it would end with an ambulance drive to a Regina hospital.

Then the paramedics arrived and the night went sideways.

"As soon as they took James's temperature, it was 40, and everybody panicked, 'He's got the virus, he's got the virus,'" June said.

"So the four people went to the deck of our house and they got on their gowns and their gloves and came back 10 minutes later. And within five minutes of them coming back, James was gone."

Paramedics stressed and frustrated

Kelly Prime said the concerns around COVID-19 are adding another layer of stress and frustration to an already challenging job.

"We can't have our paramedics going into the scene not protected and then coming out and then passing a virus, or anything like that, to the public," he said.

Paramedics are often working with limited information, filtered through a dispatcher, when they're sent to a scene. Their real assessment happens when they arrive.

This assessment happens while a patient is in life-threatening distress.

"We have to prepare for worst case like it's COVID," he said.

"So that means we have to basically back out and then put on appropriate PPE and then go into action. And we find that happens almost every day."

Prime said that he wants the Saskatchewan Health Authority to audit the call process to ensure paramedics responded appropriately.

June Jacobs said her family feels failed by the medical system.  An autopsy showed that James Jacobs did not have COVID-19.

"I really feel that health care in Saskatchewan really let us down," she said.

"It cost us our son's life. Like, you know, I never thought in my wildest dreams that it would be that we'd have to be making funeral arrangements for him."

About the Author

Dan Zakreski is a reporter for CBC Saskatoon.

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