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Fundraiser launched for Whistler man who suffered life-threatening injury while surfing in Caribbean

Alex Robertson remains in a Curaçao ICU after his esophagus spontaneously ruptured. Without valid travel insurance, costly hospital bills are adding to his family's stress.

A Whistler man’s family is appealing to the community for help after he suffered a freak traumatic injury while vacationing in the Caribbean earlier this month.

Alex Robertson and his spouse, Rachel Hindle, arrived in Curaçao on April 29 to join his parents, brother and sister-in-law for some sunshine, surfing and time with family after a busy winter.

A few days into the trip, Robertson started feeling ill after swallowing sea water during a surf session. He began forcefully vomiting, but his significant pain and inability to breathe soon made it clear something was wrong beyond his body’s attempts to expel the saltwater.

A surf coach helped rush Robertson to the Curaçao Medical Centre’s emergency room, where doctors determined Robertson had torn his esophagus.

Medical staff diagnosed Robertson with Boerhaave’s Syndrome, an exceptionally rare, highly lethal gastrointestinal tract disorder marked by “a spontaneous rupture of the esophagus that occurs during intense straining,” according to Cleveland Clinic. Without surgical intervention, the condition turns fatal in a matter of days.

Studies estimate Boerhaave’s Syndrome’s incidence rate at about 0.0003 per cent per year, or 3.1 per 1,000,000 people, with mortality rates of up to 40 per cent.

Robertson was immediately rushed into life-saving thoracotomy surgery, before undergoing a second emergency surgery to clean out his chest cavity a couple of days later. He was intubated, with four chest drains inserted.

Robertson “has been healing well,” Hindle explained in an email Tuesday. “As he slowly recovers the hospital has been removing the life-saving tubes, IVs and other medical devices. He is able to drink clear liquids and is regaining his independence. This has been amazing for Alex and his family, as the past week in the [intensive care unit] has been beyond difficult.”

Still, he faces a “long road to recovery,” Robertson’s sister-in-law wrote in an email.

GoFundMe raising money to help cover the Whistlerite's hefty hospital bills

Doctors told Robertson and his family he will likely need to stay in hospital for at least two, maybe three more weeks before he will be stable enough to fly back to Canada and continue his recovery at home. The longtime snowboard coach and trail builder was born in Toronto, but has lived in Whistler for the last 14 years. 

Robertson must follow a liquid diet for the next two weeks, while the hospital’s physiotherapist reckons he will need to restrict his movement for the next four to six weeks. Since the only commercial flight from Curaçao to Canada lands in Toronto once weekly, he’ll spend some time rehabbing in Ontario before flying home to B.C. “It will be a while before he is digging trails,” Hindle noted.

Adding to the stress are the medical bills Robertson is swiftly racking up. He does not have valid travel or health insurance outside of Canada, his family said.

“The future is still quite uncertain at the moment and this tragic event has led to an immense amount of unforeseen expenses,” Robertson’s brother and sister-in-law explain in a GoFundMe campaign they created on Saturday, May 6.

Though the family is still awaiting the final tally, the hospital estimates Robertson’s medical costs will amount to about $50,000 up until he is discharged. That doesn’t include the cost of his family’s extended stay on the Dutch island, or any upcoming bills for hospital visits, medication and further tests he’ll inevitably require as an outpatient.

The GoFundMe campaign has raised more than $30,000 to date, but is still short of meeting its $100,000 goal.

“We are relieved that Alex made it through the worst of it and is now able to heal. The outpouring of support from friends, family and acquaintances has been humbling and amazing every day,” Hindle wrote.

As the fundraiser’s description reads, Robertson and his family “are kind-hearted, loving people who are always there for others. They show great generosity and a lot of humility, it is very difficult for them to accept that support, as they are discreet people who would never dare to ask for help or burden others with their problems.

“This fundraiser is intended to give Alex, Rachel and the family a chance to breathe and allow them to focus on what's to come without worrying too much about the financial aspects.” ​​