'We were rushed into trauma': A look inside Canada's RSV and flu crisis

WATCH: Children's hospitals have struggled to keep up with a nasty surge of respiratory viruses, leading to long ER waits and cancelled surgeries. Heather Yourex-West speaks with the mother of a 23-month-old Calgary girl who became critically ill and spent more than a week fighting for her life in intensive care.

Amanda Weger is still a bit stunned that what began with a mild fever and a cough for her 23-month-old daughter has now become a two-week-long stay at the Alberta Children’s hospital, including a week in intensive care.

“A trauma team rushed in, they were hooking her up to all the monitors and I was just standing there shell-shocked. I didn’t realize she was as sick as she was,” said Weger.

Avery Harper is one of the many children battling RSV and the flu in Canada right now. The viral illnesses are hitting young patients so hard that children’s hospitals across the country have been overwhelmed.

“In general, we’re seeing more children requiring oxygen and other supportive therapies at this time than we did with the COVID surge in the spring. But even then, our emergency department volumes were nowhere near where they are now,” said Dr. Stephen Freedman, an emergency department physician at the Alberta Children’s Hospital. “That’s because of the timing of these viruses, it’s all happening at the same time.”

At the time Avery was admitted to ICU, her mother says there were 15 other patients in the unit, all with RSV, the flu or both viruses at the same time.

“It was scary; there were paramedics dropping kids off, literally as one stretcher was taken away, another replaced its spot within minutes,” said Weger.

During Avery’s time in intensive care and with permission from her family, the little girl was photographed by Dr. Heather Patterson.

The emergency physician and photographer has been documenting staff and patient experiences in hospitals since the beginning of the COVID pandemic for a project meant to help inspire front-line workers to carry on through challenging times.

“Health-care workers all across the country that work in child health are running as fast as they can and they’re dedicated and resilient people but they are also very tired,” said Dr. Laura Sauve, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and the chair of the Canadian Pediatric Society’s Pediatric Infectious Diseases and Immunization Committee.

“Hospitals are having to be creative in making sure that we can provide high levels of care even when we are stretched really very thin.”

For two weeks, Amanda Weger and her daughter have seen this firsthand.

“Our health-care system is on life support right now, I do feel it’s worse than when COVID first hit,” she said. “My heart breaks for these health-care workers.  They’re so busy.”

Avery continues to recover in hospital, though she is no longer in intensive care. Her mother hopes they will be able to go home within the next week.

23-month-old Avery Harper at the Alberta Children's Hospital. December 2022.

23-month-old Avery Harper at the Alberta Children's Hospital. December 2022.

Amanda Weger

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