Man waited five days for critical care bed
Ottawa hospitals packed: Stuck in Costa Rica with pneumonia and spinal cord injury

Mohammed Adam
The Ottawa Citizen
OTTAWA - A critically injured Ottawa man trapped in Costa Rica for five days because of a shortage of intensive care beds at Ottawa Hospital arrived home safely last night to the relief of his wife.

Chris Reaume, an engineer with JDS Uniphase, an Ottawa technology firm, flew by air ambulance shortly before 9 p.m. and was met at the Ottawa airport by a relieved Karra-Lee Gerrits and other family members.

Accompanied by his father, Tom, he was immediately taken to Ottawa Hospital's General campus where a bed was waiting.

The family said they plan to spend the night in the intensive care unit.

"We just want to make sure he knows he's here in Canada," Tom Reaume said.

The emotional reunion ended a two-week Costa Rican odyssey that began as a wedding trip and ended in a tragic accident that could keep Mr. Reaume in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

Mr. Reaume was trapped in a Costa Rican hospital for five days because of an intensive-care crisis in Ottawa.

With no beds available at the Ottawa Hospital's Civic and General campuses, the 27-year-old was forced to wait for the Canadian care that even his doctor in Costa Rica admitted was crucial to his recovery.

The shortages at the hospital are a reflection of wider problems facing Canadian health care, according to Chris Carruthers, chief of staff.

"There will never be enough resources for the system, and somehow we have to find a way to manage it better," he said yesterday.

"If we had a regional health authority, we will be able to manage it better."

In Mr. Reaume's case, his family and his insurance company appealed to Ottawa Hospital supervisor Dennis Timbrell for help.

The hospital's 39 intensive-care beds were full, and some patients were waiting in recovery for beds. The hospital appeared to try to help, but e-mails between the hospital's acting CEO, Dr. Jack Kitts, and Mr. Timbrell only confirmed the woes facing the institution's intensive-care unit.

"It disappoints me that governments have allowed the health system to come to this," said Mr. Reaume's mother-in-law, Betty Gerrits, who has worked as a nurse for 20 years.

Mr. Reaume's wife, Karra-Lee Gerrits, says simply that the Canadian health care system failed her husband.

Her nightmare began with a 3 a.m. phone call on Jan. 6. Mr. Reaume had left Ottawa in the best of moods to attend the wedding of a friend in Costa Rica. On that Sunday, the bride was on the line and the message was direct: "Chris has a spinal cord injury."

He had dived into a shallow pool.

Ms. Gerrits said she shot up in bed with shock, shaking.

She called Mr. Reaume's parents in Edmonton and broke the news to them and lay in bed unable to sleep. At daybreak, she made plans to go to Costa Rica and arrived there on Monday night.

Mr. Reaume had emergency surgery and treatment in a San Jose hospital, and doctors gave him the green light to be transferred to Ottawa for further treatment and rehabilitation. After six days in San Jose, Ms. Gerrits left on Saturday to make preparations for his return the next day or two.

But for five days, a bed could not be found for him at the hospital.

He had developed pneumonia and his doctor said he needed to be in Canada quickly for long-term treatment.

Finally, at about 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Mr. Reaume's insurance company telephoned with news that a bed had been found at the General campus. The long search was over, but the experience has drained her.

"I am incredibly frustrated," Ms. Gerrits said on Wednesday. "I never thought finding a bed will be an issue."

Her mother, Betty, said: "Being a Canadian you always feel that Canadian values put a certain value on human life. But when you start getting involved with the health care system, you start to wonder if this Canadian value is changing or has changed."

Last night, Betty was crying while Kerra-Lee was smiling.

"It's such a relief," said Kerra-Lee.

"We've both grinned from ear to ear. We're just so happy he's home."