Mom of child with chronic illness wants more pediatric critical care services in Windsor-Essex

Kaitlin Lowe has been loudly advocating for more pediatric critical care in the region after the experiences she's had with her son and speaking with other local parents who also have found it difficult to get the care their children require close to home. 

Windsor Regional Hospital says pediatric patient demand is low

A baby on a hospital bed with wires attached drinks from a milk bottle.
Shortly after Sully was born, he was diagnosed with Hirschsprung's disease. The chronic gut illness means he cannot have bowel movements and has a bag to collect his stool. (Submitted by Kaitlin Lowe)

When Kaitlin Lowe's son was born with a chronic gut condition, she didn't anticipate the extra burden of having to regularly travel outside of the region for his care. 

Since Sully was born 19 months ago, he's had three major health emergencies that have required him to be transported to hospitals outside of Windsor-Essex — twice across the border to a children's hospital in Michigan and once to London. Most of his scheduled care is now done at London Health Sciences Centre Children's Hospital. 

"It's added stress to not be close to home and to not be by our [two] older boys and have to just deal with being far from home and in a scary situation," Lowe said. 

Sully has Hirschsprung's disease, a condition that makes it difficult for his large intestine to have bowel movements. To help with this, he has a bag attached which catches his bodily waste. 

Lowe has been loudly advocating for more pediatric critical care in the region after the experiences she's had with her son and speaking with other local parents who also have found it difficult to get the care their children require close to home. 

Windsor Regional Hospital (WRH) told CBC News that the region doesn't have the pediatric patient volume to support a separate children's hospital or a pediatric emergency unit. 

But the hospital couldn't say what volume needs to be met or how far off we are from it to sustain one — though it said London children's hospital serves a population of about 400,000 children. 

On average, WRH said it transfers less than four kids per month from its emergency department and less than six kids a month who have been admitted to the hospital to London or Michigan hospitals. 

Between 2021 to 2022, the hospital's emergency room had more than 10,000 visits from pediatric patients. 

According to the Ronald McDonald House Southwestern Ontario, 105 families from Windsor-Essex used their facilities last year as their children were cared for at London's Children Hospital. 

As well, it said it prioritizes the care the patient needs and if that means going outside of the region, where there are specialists who regularly treat special pediatric cases, then that's where the patient should go. 

Three emergencies treated outside of Windsor 

Three days after Sully was born, he stopped eating and started vomiting. At WRH, Lowe said she was told it was unclear what was wrong with him and that he'd have to be sent elsewhere to be assessed. 

Across the border, he was diagnosed with Hirschsprung's disease. Complications around this caused him to have surgery at DMC Children's Hospital of Michigan and stay there for a month. 

Three months after this, Sully again stopped eating and starting vomiting. 

"[Windsor Regional Hospital] didn't know what was wrong, they really didn't know how to handle it," said Lowe. 

A woman holds a baby and looks at him in her arms.
Kaitlin Lowe has been advocating for pediatric hospital care resources for children like Sully who often have to travel outside of the region. She says the travel can add extra stress and burden to families that are already worried about their child's health. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

As WRH waited for ORNGE — an air ambulance company — to bring Sully to London, Lowe said they inserted a tube down his nose and into his stomach to stop him from throwing up. 

It took 12 hours for Sully to be transported with ORNGE.

In London, he was rushed into emergency surgery and had to stay in the hospital's pediatric critical care unit for one month. Lowe said the hospital told her that the tube WRH had inserted was done incorrectly and was the wrong size, so it caused internal damage.

At 9 months old, Sully had another emergency and Lowe said that at WRH, they tried to insert an adult-sized IV into him, which didn't go in and left him with multiple bruises. 

He was once again brought to a children's hospital across the border and when there, Lowe said she was told by the doctors that Sully didn't even need an IV. 

"We feel that if Windsor had had the proper equipment for pediatric emergencies and people who know how to treat that kind of thing, it wouldn't have been as serious and he wouldn't have had to go through that trauma that he had to go through," she said.

"We all need our children to have better care in Windsor." 

WATCH: Kaitlin Lowe says she knows other parents also want better care

Kaitlin Lowe says she knows many other parents who want to see better care for their kids

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Lowe says she's advocating for increased pediatric resources for Sully and others who find the trek to hospitals in other regions difficult.

WRH's chief of pediatrics Dr. Sajit Augustine said they hear these concerns and are learning from these experiences. 

"It's unfortunate that some families have had that experience and I entirely sympathize with them, but again we must recognize that we are a community hospital, we are not pretending to be a children's hospital," said Augustine. 

"We don't have the resources of a children's hospital, but we are doing the best we can under the circumstances." 

He added that his pediatrics staff and the emergency department team have been working on running through mock scenarios to better prepare them for when children in certain situations arrive. The team is also partnering with doctors in London to improve their expertise. 

Hospital working to hire region's 1st pediatric cardiologist

Though she's been told the region doesn't have the demand for a specific pediatric critical care unit, she said she'd like WRH to implement of the following solutions: 

  • One or two pediatric critical care beds if they can't have a unit. 
  • More pediatric nurses or doctors in the emergency room. 
  • Videoconferencing with a children's doctor to assess the situation until the child can be transferred. 
  • Windsor get its own pediatric transport team to bring kids to other hospitals. 

Augustine told CBC News that they are working on increasing the number of pediatric subspecialties in the region. So far, the hospital covers eight of the 17 pediatric subspecialties — including doctors specialized in children's blood, nervous and digestive system issues. 

The hospital said it's currently working on hiring Windsor-Essex's first pediatric cardiologist and hopes to fill that position by the end of the year. 

"We are certainly working to reduce the driving distance that many of these children with special needs have to access pediatric subspecialists," he said, adding that it's difficult to attract these doctors here since Windsor doesn't have a medical academic institution. 

WATCH: Dr. Augustine talks about uneven pediatric care

Dr. Sajit Augustine on the uneven pediatric care landscape

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Augustine says better access to pediatric care relies on government training programs and funding.

With the new hospital, Augustine said they're looking to have a separate zone for pediatric emergency cases. 

Parent, who lost child, also says more needs to change

And while Lowe is leading the push for these resources now, the issue has been a longstanding for some parents. 

Lowe's friend, Yvette Erickson, had her son Finn 17 years ago.

Issues with his intestines in the days after he was born caused him to be airlifted from WRH to London.

Erickson said it was soon discovered that he his small intestine had died off and it was unlikely he'd get a transplant or survive it — he  died days after he was born. 

Erickson said that while she hates to live in the "what ifs" she often wonders if the outcome would have been the same had Finn not had to have been transferred by an air ambulance. 

"This is a pain that you'd never wish on anybody," she said. 

"To know 17 years later, that it could still happen, that's unacceptable, completely unacceptable." 

In an email, the Ministry of Health told CBC News that there are programs in place to attract doctors to Windsor, including Medical Education Campuses.

It did not say whether the region needed to meet a patient volume in order to have a children's hospital or more children resources. 


Jennifer La Grassa


Jennifer La Grassa is a videojournalist at CBC Windsor. She is particularly interested in reporting on healthcare stories. Have a news tip? Email