When their little boy was feverish overnight, a west-end Toronto couple thought he was probably getting a cold.
By the next morning, M.J. Shaw and her husband, Dan Carson, were rushing their unresponsive toddler to the emergency department at St. Joseph’s hospital.
Eighteen-month-old Sam was slipping in and out of consciousness; his parents ran to the car rather than wait for an ambulance.
The drive to St. Joseph’s Health Centre was only seven minutes from their house.
“That was an awful seven minutes,” said Shaw of the drive, but help was instantaneous.
“They called a Code Pink as we arrived and suddenly there were 12 people in the room, with IVs and ventilators going, and everything. Sam was unconscious for about four hours, and having seizures on and off during that period. After four hours, they stabilized him.”
Doctors discovered that Sam had a very rare case of bacterial blood poisoning, cause unknown; had it gone to his brain it would have become meningitis, said his mother.
“It’s very rare. They told us it was likely a one-time thing. It was a terrible four hours. They thought Sam might have to be transferred because of the seizures — they had the helicopter ready — but once he was stabilized, it was OK.
“It was incredible to witness the protocols.”
Carson added a team of doctors began treating Sam immediately.
“The care was just outstanding. There’s a tonne of people using the system, but they knew we needed help right away. The doctor was quick to call the right people into the room.
“The ER there is responsible for saving Sam. We feel privileged to have a resource like that so close to our home.”
The incident happened in February 2020, and Sam is a perfectly healthy three-year-old now, but Shaw and Carson are telling their story because they want to express their gratitude to the hospital and help spread the word about the excellent care they received.
As it happens, St. Joseph’s Health Centre has been saving lives for a century — since 1921.
The facility on The Queensway, near Roncesvalles Ave., is one of Canada’s largest community teaching hospitals, serving more than 500,000 west-enders and dealing with some 100,000 emergency visits each year.
They have big plans for their second century.
Right now, the Emergency Department serves about twice the number of people it was built for. To make sure the hospital meets the needs of the community for the next 100 years,St. Joe’s has launched Promise 100, a campaign to help fund the first state-of-the-art post-COVID Emergency Department in the country.
“People deal with trauma in different ways. I replayed the events of that day with Sam every day for a year. We decided to donate to the hospital,” said Shaw.
“At the one-year mark, I just felt so moved. Dan and I were so grateful Sam was alive.”
The family donated in the names of a pediatric emergency doctor, Yousef Etoom, and a pediatric care centre doctor, Sharon Naymark.
Shaw’s business has been shut down since COVID struck, and she makes it clear the family doesn’t have bundles of money to spare.
“But it felt important to do something. I’ll never get over it,” she said, about the crisis with Sam’s health, “but I’m so thankful.
“Sam is a beautiful, bustling, busy little boy. He’s our pride and joy.”