Infant's meningitis death prompts outcry over First Nations health care

By Carol Sanders, Winnipeg Free Press      March 30, 2009

WINNIPEG — The extremely private parents of a Manitoba baby who died from meningitis that
was diagnosed too late are going public with their pain to call for better health-care for Canada's First Nations.

"We're here so people will know," said Melita Barkman, who attended a news conference Monday
with her husband, Conrad Monday, at the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs headquarters in Winnipeg.

The couple lost their six-month-old son, Chace, on Friday to a rare form of meningitis that went undiagnosed
at the nursing station that serves their First Nation of Garden Hill, a remote, fly-in community in northern Manitoba
that's home to 4,000 people.

"We're here so people will get better treatment for their kids," said the baby's father, Conrad Barkman.

Their urgent call was echoed by Garden Hill's chief, who demanded a federal-provincial task force on the sorry
state of health care on First Nations reserves in Canada.

"We're requesting an independent review of how health care is delivered," Garden Hill Chief David Harper said Monday.

Chace Barkman died Friday after being removed from life-support at Winnipeg's Children's Hospital.

His mother had taken her feverish baby to the nursing station in Garden Hill on March 14.

She was sent home and told to give the baby Tylenol and cool baths to reduce Chace's fever.

The next day, she took Chace back to the nursing station and the baby had a seizure.

He was flown to Winnipeg and diagnosed with a common form of strep infection that, uncommonly,
spread to the lining of his brain, resulting in meningitis.

Two out of every 10 cases result in death even with treatment, another two out of 10 who survive are left
with brain damage or deafness.

Doctors ordered that his twin, Grant, who had also been sick, be airlifted to Winnipeg as well.

Grant was diagnosed with meningitis also, and survived surgery March 26 to drain a fluid buildup in his brain.

Chace did not survive, and died Friday

The chief said another baby with similar symptoms had died a week earlier, and they are trying to find out
if that was the result of undiagnosed meningitis as well.

Any other Manitoba community the size of Garden Hill, with a population of 10,000, would have better
health-care facilities, said Harper.

"You have communities like Morden and Winkler with hospitals and doctors or people can drive to hospitals,"
Harper said.

He said there is a chronic lack of staffing at the nursing station.

Garden Hill has a Second World War-era nursing station and doctors visit the community just a few days
a week, he said. Without a year-round road, residents don't have the option of driving to Winnipeg for health care, he said.

In an e-mailed statement, a spokeswoman for Health Canada expressed sympathy on behalf of the department
for the Barkman family, and said the department is reviewing the facts of the cases.

"The department is committed to providing quality health care to the Garden Hill First Nation's community," wrote Christelle Legault.

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