EMS makes homecoming possible

February 18, 2015

Westlock community rallies around H1N1 patient

Lance McNamara has a long road to recovery after a devastating case of influenza contracted in 2013 took away his ability to walk and talk.

Last fall, residents in his hometown of Westlock wanted to show the 27-year-old that he and his family aren’t travelling that road alone. So they put on a fundraising dinner and dance.

There was just one problem.

McNamara was still a patient at the Misericordia Community Hospital in Edmonton and needed ongoing medical care. The guest of honour couldn’t get to his own party.

That’s when Alberta Health Services’ Emergency Medical Services (AHS EMS) stepped in. Once his care team approved a hospital pass, an EMS team transported McNamara to and from the event and tended to his care needs that night.

“Being here gives Lance the courage to go on and see the love and the support that he has,” says Lance’s mother, Irene. “It makes him hang in there.”

As AHS EMS staff Genevieve Scott, Karen Cheung, Adam Filipchuk and Har Dass wheeled Lance into the Elks Hall, the 300 guests greeted them with applause and a standing ovation. The homecoming was taped by AHS and released as part of the organization’s Passion for Health initiative, which highlights the caring and compassion demonstrated by AHS staff each and every day.

The four-hour round trip was the first time Lance had been out of the hospital since Dec. 16, 2013, when he was admitted into the hospital with H1N1 influenza. He ended up in the intensive care unit after developing multi-organ failure. He was in a coma for weeks.

Complications from influenza caused him to develop Guillain Barré Syndrome, a condition that resulted in paralysis, leaving him a quadriplegic and robbing him of the ability to talk. It has also left McNamara with a long and uncertain future of rehabilitation to get back his life with fiancée Kelsey Lindberg and stepson Jordan.

“They really have gone to great lengths to get him here and to make sure he’s safe while he’s here – and that’s huge,” says Lindberg of the AHS staff. “That was definitely a favour we couldn’t necessarily expect. I appreciate it very much.”

The Westlock residents attending the event showed their appreciation for the EMS staff, giving them a standing ovation of their own.

“I don’t even know what to say about the EMS staff. I’m just so grateful,” says Lance’s brother Ryan McNamara.

“Talk about going above and beyond to be willing to come out to a function like this.”

The community’s reception to the care the EMS staff provided also left the AHS staff choked up.

“Words can’t even begin to describe it. You see the difference you’re making,” says Filipchuck. “It’s overwhelming. You bite your tongue and hold the tears back.”

Scott, who recently started her EMS career, also had to keep her emotions in check.

“I feel really honoured to be able to do something like this,” she says. “I’m trying not to listen to any of the speeches because I might cry.”

Adds Cheung: “I love helping people … This is a daily reminder, from now on, why I do the work that I do.”

The EMS crew took Lance back to the hospital to continue his recovery after a couple of hours. It was a short visit, but one that left a long lasting impression on his family.

“As a mother,” says Irene, “It warms my heart to see what they have done for my son.”