‘Urgent’ heart surgery canceled in Ontario over bed shortage

An Ontario man in “urgent” need of heart surgery after a 45-day COVID-related coma has had his procedure canceled indefinitely because of a hospital bed shortage in the province, his wife says.

“For me it’s just a case of, I feel like the longer it takes to do this, the longer it takes to go on with our lives,” Jill Gillespie told CTV News Toronto. “There doesn’t seem to be a new date in mind even though he’s deemed urgent.”

Her husband Brian tested positive for COVID-19 last February, which led to a three-month “rollercoaster” of health issues, including a heart attack, several lung collapses and a 45-day coma at a Barrie, Ont. hospital. At the time, his wife and daughter were called to his bedside to say goodbye.

But then, he pulled through. “He’s basically a miracle man to be alive,” Jill said.

However, the cardiac arrest that took place when he was in hospital led to atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat. At times, when Brian is just sitting, his heart rate jumps from 15 to 140 beats per minute in the span of seconds.

“I feel like COVID already probably shortened his life a huge amount,” she added. “I feel like delaying this surgery is not helping,” Jill said.

In the summer, he was placed on Toronto General Hospital’s wait list for a heart ablation procedure to scar his heart and stop the irregular rhythms.

Last Tuesday, they got the call. An appointment had opened up on Friday.

Just as quickly as the appointment came, it fled. Two days later, they said it was canceled because the hospital didn’t have a bed to keep Brian overnight after the procedure, his wife said.

“Nothing surprises us anymore,” Jill said. “His family doctor and heart specialist said this needs to happen and it needs to happen urgently.”

Gillian Howard, vice president of communications at University Health Network, Toronto General Hospital’s umbrella organization, said when any patient’s surgery is cancelled, it is rescheduled “as quickly as possible.”

“No health care team or hospital wants to have any patient go through a cancellation but we need to ensure that staffed beds are available after any operation to ensure the safety of the patient,” Howard told CTV News Toronto.

“There are many factors that contribute to shortages including urgent admissions from the Emergency Departments and staffing shortages due to staff illness.”

On any given day, Howard said UHN is operating at 100 per cent capacity. “Today Toronto Western is at 120% capacity,” she said.

Canceled surgeries have remained a province-wide issue throughout the pandemic and recently resurfaced as some hospitals face overwhelming influxes of patients.

The Ontario Medical Association (OMA) recently reported a backlog of more than one million procedures and encouraged the province to create specialized non-profit clinics to tackle the issue.

These “integrated ambulatory centres” would be affiliated with hospitals and focus on one type of surgery at a time to boost efficiency between 20 to 30 per cent. The OMA met with Health Minister Sylvia Jones on Monday to discuss the idea.

In the meantime, until Brian’s new surgery date is booked, Jill is left wondering how long her husband’s heart can keep beating at its irregular rhythm.

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