The Importance of Ornge in Northern Ontario – A Patient’s Perspective
July 4, 2023
4 July, 2023
In May 2018, Miriam Cook’s father, Ivan Cook, was experiencing some discomfort in his chest. On what seemed to be a normal day for Miriam and her father, turned out to be one of the most important of their lives. Ivan went to the nursing station in Slate Falls, a remote First Nations community and a seven hour drive north from Thunder Bay. At the nursing station, he underwent an electrocardiogram (ECG) test to record the electrical signal from the heart to identify possible heart conditions.
After the ECG, Ivan left the nursing station and went about his day like normal, working around the community and performing his daily routine. Unbeknownst to him, his ECG results revealed some irregularities in his heart. The nurses frantically tried to call him, but to no avail. So, they called Miriam, who didn’t know her father went in for an ECG and didn’t even know he was having any chest pains to begin with. Miriam was able to get a hold of her father and directed him back to the station where he was informed that he needed to go to Thunder Bay for additional testing.
Ornge flew Ivan to Thunder Bay where it was discovered they were unable to assist him as he needed triple bypass heart surgery.
“That’s kind of the moment where I realized it was a lot more serious than we thought,” says Miriam Cook.
Of course, her dad insisted he was fine, and he told Miriam he wanted to keep living his life. She had to explain to him: “Dad, they’re going to open up your chest and do surgery on your heart.” Miriam had a trip to Switzerland booked for that week, and her father pleaded with her to go on the trip, but she said it was important to be by his side.
“I think everyone should know you can’t always travel with your family member. During COVID, a lot of patients were being transported and had to be alone. I know for some elderly patients in the north and it was very hard for them to do so because they don’t always understand the paramedics and hospital staff,” Miriam says.
Miriam and Ivan were transported by Ornge from Thunder Bay to Toronto General Hospital for the surgery.
On her dad’s experience, Miriam explains “the crew was great; the paramedics were nice. They explained how long the ride would be and they constantly checked on my dad to make sure he was doing okay. The day of the surgery was the longest of my life.”
Ivan’s surgery went well, and he was discharged from the hospital seven days later to be transported back to Thunder Bay by Ornge. Though the worst of it was over, Miriam was touched by the effort provided by everyone involved in helping her father.
Miriam recently joined Ornge’s Medical Advisory Committee (MAC) as a patient representative, the first First Nations patient representative and the first from Northern Ontario. Miriam hopes to be the voice for people in her community and provide a unique perspective as a former patient.
“I have a pretty big heart,” she says. “I’m very passionate about advocating and ensuring people’s medical needs, or any of their needs. I guess that there are certain methods to healthcare that I want to ensure that patients understand while they are receiving care. Especially in the north, there might be some people that don’t understand certain medical terms, but I want to make sure that they do.”
As a patient, Miriam emphasized the value of paramedics and flight crew having a good understanding of Indigenous culture. With her new role on the MAC, she hopes to improve air ambulance services by stressing the importance of continuing to educate crew on Indigenous culture to make patients feel more comfortable. She commended the paramedics she encountered for their understanding of the communities they serve, including picking up some Ojibwe words. Miriam believes this cultural sensitivity is key for any patient transport.
“Ornge makes a huge difference in our communities. Every transport that they do within Northern communities make a huge difference because they’re constantly saving lives. I know a lot of people that have been transported by Ornge, whether going home from the hospital or travelling for services that we don’t offer in remote communities. Some people are even frequent flyers you could say, the crew know them by name, and they know how to communicate with them – some of them even picked up on a few words from their languages.”