Looking back on the night her nearly two-year-old son Parker went into anaphylactic shock, Nora Clarke remembers some of the scariest hours of her life.
But somehow it didn’t feel that way at the time—a calmness she credits to the team at the Whistler Health Care Centre (WHCC).
After being greeted at the doors to the clinic by Dr. Clark Lewis and his team, it was touch-and-go for some time, Clarke says, with Parker requiring three shots of epinephrine over several hours, as well as an IV to keep his lungs open.
“It was a mess,” she recalls.
But the WHCC staff, with their no-nonsense approach, helped keep things grounded.
“It’s scary when I think back, but they managed to make it not scary when we were in it, somehow,” Clarke says.
“No one took their eyes off Parker the whole time, so I didn’t feel like I had to ask any questions. I could just hang out with him and give him more screen time in 12 hours than he’s had in his whole life.”
Dr. Lewis went “above and beyond” in his care for Parker, even offering to ride in the ambulance with them to meet the critical care team, Clarke remembers.
“He’s incredible,” she says. “This is actually the first time I’ve talked about it without bursting into tears.”
While you don’t have to look far to find similar stories of local heroism at the WHCC, at 25 years old, the facility is well overdue for an upgrade.
That’s why news that the Whistler Health Care Foundation has reached its $1.5-million fundraising goal for trauma room upgrades is being welcomed on all fronts.
“I am pumped to see it, and not just because of our kid’s allergies,” Clarke says, adding that, “we don’t have small injuries in Whistler.
“I think our doctors are top-notch, but now it’s just really cool that they’re actually going to have a facility that matches their skills.”
For the team at the WHCC, the announcement comes in the midst of a very difficult year, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to upend all aspects of life.
“It is exceptional, it is exciting,” says Whistler’s medical director Dr. Fern von der Porten.
“It is great news during a really hard time, and this will mean for our group that we can provide better care in a better working environment.”
In a normal year, the WHCC sees about 22,000 patients, and about 100 a day during the busy times, von der Porten notes.
With COVID still raging, the WHCC is seeing about 60 patients a day during busy times.
“And obviously lots of those are traumas based on the skiing and biking we see here,” von der Porten says.
The trauma room upgrade project will make use of existing space in the building, “moving out some walls and making it so the two trauma rooms we have right now can be connected together,” she adds.
“And then [there will be the] purchase of some new equipment, which is mostly this thing called a boom, which hangs off the ceiling and provides oxygen, suction, vital monitors, etc.”
According to a Vancouver Coastal Health spokesperson, the surgical booms are designed to “ergonomically centralize all surgical equipment and utility services for the Trauma staff.”
“They are used in state-of-the-art healthcare facilities where there is a need for immediate access to medical gases and air.
“Furthermore, they provide electrical power and audio visual data services.”
The new equipment also prioritizes safety by keeping electrical cords out of the way and organizing key equipment in one location.
“Surgical procedure lights are also attached to the same structure to give flexibility for the same reasons,” the spokesperson notes.
“The addition of booms to WHCC will bring the facility one step closer to modernization and aligning with current best practices and healthcare standards.”
The goal is to start construction after Easter, with a construction timeline of about five to seven months.
“We will have to rearrange our work a little bit so that we can run traumas in a separate space,” von der Porten says.
“We’re working on getting the mobile medical unit; we’re just looking at that right now to see if it’s an option, and if we can do that we may use that for increased workflow and capacity during the summer months.”
When finished, the upgrade will allow the WHCC staff more space to work as a team.
“The [current] space is small,” von der Porten explains.
“We’ve been very successful working in this space, but we know we can do better.”
Dollar for dollar, the trauma room upgrade campaign is the single largest fundraising project ever undertaken at the Whistler Health Care Foundation—and one that was substantially completed within a year.
While the project was announced at the end of 2019, the fundraising campaign officially launched in the summer of 2020 with the foundation’s No-Show Ball.
“We ramped up the campaign in the fall and were overwhelmed by the response from the community,” says Sandra Cameron, head of the WHCF’s trauma room upgrade committee.
The project benefited from some big donations in the early months, including $300,000 from the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation and $500,000 from the Sea to Sky Regional Hospital District.
“Once these two pledges were in place, the hard work began, but we were confident we would meet our target of $1.5 million,” Cameron says.
“We reached out to all our past donors and engaged a few of our supporters to help create interest in the project.”
Other big donations came from the Rockowitz family ($100,000), the Squamish Hospital Foundation ($100,000), and the Katz-Amsterdam Foundation ($90,000), as well as $300,000 from GFL Environmental.
As the owner of a second home for more than a decade, Whistler is near and dear to his heart, said GFL’s president and CEO Patrick Dovigi.
“We’ve spent time at the clinic in the past, and we knew it was in need of an upgrade, just given the significant amount of volume that goes through that place on an annual basis,” he says.
“I thought it was just a great opportunity to give back to a place that was near and dear to our heart.”
IT’S A BIRD, IT’S A PLANE, IT’S… DR. LEWIS?
Despite his close call, Parker bounced back well after a night in Lions Gate Hospital.
“He’s fine. Dad and I aren’t, but he’s fine,” Clarke says with a laugh, adding that Parker even painted a “masterpiece” of a thank-you gift for the team at WHCC.
Recalling the incident nearly two weeks after it happened, Clarke was still blown away by their professionalism.
“I’m not as scared with his allergy, knowing how awesome they were,” she says.
“I know they’re just doing their job, and that’s what some people say, but there’s a way to do it, and then there’s the way they did it.”
Clarke finds a nickname for Dr. Lewis—Parker’s attending physician on that dramatic night—especially fitting, given the circumstances.
“Because his first name is Clark, I’ve heard that his nickname is Superman,” she says.
“And I’m just going to go ahead and say he’s earned that.”