Telehealth reunites a young patient with his family in Nunavut


James Kaernerk is a long way from home. The nineteen-year-old rehabilitation patient at the Élisabeth Bruyère Health Centre (a site of SCO Health Service) is from Hall Beach, a tiny community of about 600 residents that sits on the Nunavut mainland facing Baffin Island to the east and the vast tundra to the west.

On August 1st 2005, James had an All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) accident in Hall Beach that left him with a traumatic brain injury. The same day, he was transferred by a medivac plane to the town of Iqaluit, three hours away. Meanwhile, another jet was on its way from Montreal to pick James up at Iqaluit and bring him to the Ottawa Hospital. Ottawa is a referral centre for residents from eastern Nunavut who need specialized care that can’t be provided closer to home.

Last October, James was transferred to SCO Health Service, leaving behind his parents, six brothers, four sisters and his dog Lee. Although one of his brothers visited him for a few months, James was mostly alone during this unexpected and scary chapter of his life.

SCO Health Service, the Nunavut government and the Baffin-Ottawa Program of Ottawa Health Services Network Inc. worked together in the fall to reunite James with his family by using telehealth services. The Baffin-Ottawa program coordinates specialized and tertiary health care in the national capital and Iqaluit for residents of the Baffin region.

SCO Health Service is an avid user of telehealth for clinical, educational and administrative activities. However, it is the first time the organization has used telehealth to bring families together and respond to a patient’s emotional needs. One of these reunions was held in mid-December 2005. James was overwhelmed with joy, particularly when he saw his father on the screen. It is still difficult for James to speak but he was able to communicate what he felt at the time: “It felt so good to see my family again. I cried… my father criedÉmy whole family was there, my friends also…” Everyone was surprised and delighted to see how much James had progressed.

Members of James’ health-care team had the privilege to share this touching reunion and meet his family. Alain Rochon, Registered Practical Nurse (RPN), was one of them. “I was really impressed with this telehealth session. It allowed us to meet James’ most pressing and intimate need – to be reunited with his loved ones. It gave him such a boost and helped his rehabilitation. I found this experience most extraordinary!”

Jean Bartkowiak, President and CEO of SCO Health Service, was thrilled that his organization could help this young Inuit connect with his family and community. “This is an ideal example of how we are living our mission of compassionate and inspired care; by using our telehealth services to help James reach his loved ones, we were able to improve his well-being.”

On May 3rd, James was again reunited with his family through the use of teleconference services. Christine Dudley, social worker at SCO Health Service, says “these reunions make him very happy and allow him to be with his family. While his future remains uncertain, James is determined to be independent and continues to work hard at getting better.”