By: Dale Bass (Kamloops This Week)

Janice Joneja was holding husband Rajindar when he died.

She had taken her husband, a retired neurologist and psychiatrist, to the emergency room at Royal Inland Hospital on March 12. He was in pain and great distress, but was capable of telling the triage nurse his medical history, including surviving cancer and congestive heart failure.

His blood pressure was checked and he was given two aspirin — but no water with which to take them — and told to go to the waiting room. About five minutes later, Rajindar collapsed and, after seeking help, Janice held her husband as he died.

“I called for help and went straight back to him and held him,” Janice said of those minutes on nine days ago. “I held him and told him, ‘I’m here, I’m here’ and I held him while he took that last breath, that last rattling breath.”

He died in the building he had worked in since 1968, for many of those years as the only neurologist in the Interior and one of only two psychiatrists in the region.

His death has prompted Janice and family friend Dr. G.B. Gowd to speak out about the lack of a cardiac clinic at RIH.

“I’m British and I’m a private person, but if my husband’s mode of death helps someone, as he helped people in his life, then I have to do this,” Janice said. “I don’t want anyone else to go through this horrendous thing again.”

Janice called the conditions that led to her husband not receiving immediate care “avoidable,” adding Kamloops needs better-trained medical personnel.

Gowd agrees, pointing out no doctor saw Rajindar until after his death.

Gowd said had he been sitting in the triage area when an elderly man with a history of heart issues came in, needing to sit in a wheelchair and in obvious distress, he would have handled things differently.

“He immediately should have been put into a bed and they should have called a doctor, done an ECG to show what was happening,” Gow said. “A cardiologist should have been called right away. Two aspirin is not the way.”

Janice, who has a doctorate degree in immunology, agrees.

In a letter to RIH and Health Minister Terry Lake, she said the triage nurse “should have been aware of his condition and should have taken immediate steps” to move Rajindar to a bed or the trauma room.

She said all experts on heart attacks advise the public to immediately go to their nearest hospital emergency room for attention.

“To what end?” she asked. “To be given two aspirin tablets and told to wait for medical attention until the staff is free to deal with the patient? Is that a measure of the care we can expect from our famed Canadian medical system?”

Gowd said he has taken his concerns to Lake.

The health minister told KTW he sympathizes, but noted it’s not up to him nor his ministry to make a decision on services RIH will provide. That falls to the Interior Health Authority, its senior staff and its board of directors.

Board chair John O’Fee knew Rajindar well.They served together on the Thompson Rivers University Foundation board and he considered the man a friend.

O’Fee said Gowd and local philanthropist Al Patel have talked with him about their belief RIH needs a catheter lab to help treat patients with heart issues — and he’s sympathetic.

“There is a push from the medical community for a cath lab, but it’s not just a matter of bringing in the equipment,” O’Fee said.

Space for the lab and for beds is required, as well as trained cardiac specialists.

“It’s not that simple,” O’Fee said, adding he will be taking the concerns to the April board meeting. There is a community push about improving cardiac care at RIH and that is a good thing. I see this as something we can work on.”

O’Fee said recognizing RIH is a tertiary-care hospital, taking patients from the outlying Kamloops region, could be an argument for IHA to create its second catheter lab for its area. The only such lab now exists in Kelowna.

“I’ve already started that ball rolling,” he said, talking with people at the medical, hospital and IHA levels. “I understand the power of a great idea.”

O’Fee said he mourns Rajindar’s death in the hospital where he began working nearly 50 years ago.

While he said it will take some time to see the “great idea” even make its way to the possible project level, O’Fee said it’s “something I can get behind.

“This could be the best legacy for Dr. Joneja we can possibly give.”