Ms Brandon questions lack of care during airlift to Winnipeg after heart attack

Eleanor Buechler speaks about the conditions she experienced during a flight transfer from Brandon to Winnipeg to have an angiogram after suffering a heart attack.  (Chelsea Kemp/CBC - photo credit)

Eleanor Buechler speaks about the conditions she experienced during a flight transfer from Brandon to Winnipeg to have an angiogram after suffering a heart attack. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC – photo credit)

A senior from Brandon, Man., says the conditions of her air ambulance trip to Winnipeg last month were “completely inhumane” and she thought she would die before she got there.

Eleanor Buechler, 79, went to the Brandon Regional Health Center on February 1 for chest pains. She was diagnosed with a heart attack and was flown to Winnipeg two days later for an angiogram at St. Boniface Hospital.

An angiogram is a diagnostic test that takes X-rays of the coronary arteries and the vessels that supply blood to the heart. Buechler said she was sent for the procedure to determine the extent of the damage caused by the heart attack.

Buechler, who was taken to the airport by ambulance on a stretcher, said she was forced to walk outside to the plane while wearing only a hospital nightgown, dressing gown and slippers.

“I was told to go to the plane and I was flabbergasted because I was like, ‘I’ve just been diagnosed with a heart attack — what do I do?'” she told CBC.

The plane was cold too, she said, and she had to sit strapped in with no blankets.

“All the way to Winnipeg I thought, ‘If I have a heart attack, I’m going to die if the cold doesn’t get to me first,'” Büchler said.

“I’m not afraid of flying. It was the fear of dying without help.”

Buechler said she was so cold when she got off the plane that her hands and feet were numb. She had to walk to the ambulance, which took her to St Boniface Hospital.

When she arrived, she was told she could enter the hospital via a snow-covered wheelchair ramp or cement stairs and choose the stairs.

“I was so cold I vibrated.”

“Heartbreaking”: Wab Kinev

Buechler said she was able to warm up and stop shaking in time for the angiogram, which requires patients to be still so a needle can be inserted into a major artery.

She wonders why she had to walk to the plane, van and hospital when the staff at Brandon Hospital put her on bed rest.

In a statement to CBC News, a spokesman for Shared Health said patient relations had reached Buechler and the incident was being reviewed.

Chelsea Kemp/CBC

Chelsea Kemp/CBC

They couldn’t comment specifically on Buechler’s case, but said stable patients are often asked to leave accompanied by medical staff.

“Every effort will be made to ensure that temperatures on the plane are also comfortable for patients during their journey,” the statement said, but external factors such as colder weather can cause temperatures in medical transport vehicles to fluctuate.

NDP leader Wab Kinew on Wednesday expressed concern about Buechler’s experience, calling it “heartbreaking”. He blamed the privatization of air ambulance services for the incident.

“I think the first step has to be higher standards and enforcing those standards for the people running these services,” Kinev told the news media after Question Time.

Prime Minister Heather Stefanson was absent from Question Time due to a funeral, but Deputy Prime Minister Cliff Cullen responded to concerns in the House, citing a call for proposals to improve aviation medical services.

“The [request for proposal] will also build a more modern critical care service to support the evolving needs of Manitoban residents, including those in Manitoba,” said Cullen.

Buechler said she was overwhelmed by the mention in the legislature, but added it was gratifying to spread awareness of her experience.

Chelsea Kemp/CBC

Chelsea Kemp/CBC

She wants to know what is the communication protocol between hospitals and medical aviation services.

“My question is, ‘Was I taken to Winnipeg by a paramedic or not? Did this person who came with me get any information that I’ve been diagnosed with a heart attack and shouldn’t run?’

Neither Shared Health nor the province had contacted her, she said, and the only calls she received were from reporters.

“It upsets me because I depend on people in healthcare. We need them to take care of us.”

Buechler said her plane trip back to Brandon was much better after a paramedic she told about her trip to Winnipeg made sure she was warm.

When she returned home, she had a cold on her head and chest that left her bedridden for nearly two weeks. Buechler’s daughter and husband have cared for her during this time and she has not returned to the hospital, she said.

But the experience gives her nightmares. The senior said she is telling her story in hopes it will prevent another person from going through the same situation.

“I have so much to live for. I have a loving family and a loving husband,” Buechler said.

“It kept going through my mind that I’m going to die and nobody cares.”


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