Can you board a ferry in a medical emergency? A Quadra man in the middle of a heart attack had issues getting on the ferry to go to hospital in Campbell River and was told to call 911. File photo/Campbell River Mirror

Can you board a ferry in a medical emergency? A Quadra man in the middle of a heart attack had issues getting on the ferry to go to hospital in Campbell River and was told to call 911. File photo/Campbell River Mirror

Heart attack raises questions about boarding BC Ferries in health emergencies

Quadra Island man recovering after being airlifted to hospital in Victoria

A recent episode involving a Quadra Island man unable to board a ferry during a heart attack raises questions about what to do when there is water between you and a hospital.

David Alger, 62, was certain he needed urgent medical attention and was close to the Quathiaski Cove terminal, but he was not allowed to board for Campbell River. Instead, he was told to call for help.

A BC Ferries spokesperson has clarified their policy is to have people in medical distress contact a first responder rather than try to board a ferry.

“Anybody having a medical emergency should be calling 911,” said Deborah Marshall, BC Ferries’ executive director of public affairs. “Our personnel are not medically trained. We’ve got an occupational first-aid attendant just in case there’s any on-board incidents…. We are certainly not doctors, we’re not emergency responders.”

BC Ferries’ website has a page, “Safety Above All,” that states, “On an average day, BC Ferries’ crews may be required to rescue boaters in distress, attend a sudden heart-attack patient, or even try to prevent a suicide attempt.”

Marshall points out these are situations crew might face on board during a sailing and reiterates the need for people to call for assistance if they need help in advance of a trip.

RELATED STORY: Coast Guard fills in for ferry during medical evacuation of Quadra woman

Since the incident, Alger is recovering after eventually being airlifted to Victoria. He had been out biking on Nov. 29 when he started feeling something was wrong. Soon, he was experiencing chest pains and called his wife.

As a volunteer firefighter on Quadra, Alger has attended many first response situations and says he knows the time needed to get to the fire hall and retrieve equipment before attending a scene. As he and his wife were close to the ferry, they decided the noon sailing for Campbell River where she could drive to hospital was the fastest option. As well, his wife had forgotten her phone in the mayhem while he had stashed his in the back of the vehicle. They knew time to make ferry was running short.

“The ferry is going to leave without us, that was my big fear,” he said.

They were turned away because they had been told no one was on board that could help in the event of a medical emergency. Instead, they were told to call 911.

“It’s their policy that they don’t accept people in a medical emergency,” he said.

An ambulance was dispatched and had to be sent from Campbell River to Quadra to retrieve Alger and take him to hospital in Campbell River. In the meantime, a first responder arrived at around 12:10 or 12:15 p.m., Alger estimates, and he was given oxygen.

An ambulance arrived and brought him to the hospital where it was confirmed he was having a “major heart attack.” He was given medication to fight blood clots but went into cardiac arrest at which point he blacked out.

“I don’t remember anything until I regained consciousness,” he said.

His wife later told him she saw his eyes rolls back and his arms start flailing. He was soon flown to Victoria for a catheterization.

Alger credits the care he got at both hospitals but estimates the delay probably cost him about 40 extra minutes in getting to Campbell River.

Currently, he is recovering and feels well enough under the circumstances.

“I feel OK, but I don’t feel like I did before,” he said. “There’s no upside whatsoever to delaying treatment in a heart attack.”

He is upset with what he feels is misinformation from a ferry advisory committee member on a subsequent radio show about the situation. Nor was he impressed with a BC Ferries’ statement for another news story about their practice to let medical professionals make decisions about the transport of patients.

“It’s for the safety of the passenger,” he said. “I’m thinking, ‘Wow, it’s so safe it almost killed me.”

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits Nanoose Bay property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury

The section of Highway 19A between Laburnum Road and Goodyear Road was closed to traffic due to a single vehicular accident. (DriveBC illustration)
Section of highway closed after vehicle hits pole near Qualicum Beach

Traffic disrupted for hours; two people taken to hospital

Joan LeMoine. (Peter McCully photo)
OPINION: Joan LeMoine represented the very best in all of us

Beloved Parksville area volunteer left an indelible mark on the community

Seiners fill the waters between Comox and Nanoose Bay during roe herring fishery. file photo, Pacific Wild
Quota debate heats up on the eve of Vancouver Island herring fishery

Industry and conservationists weigh in how much catch should be allowed as DFO decision coming soon

Keith the curious kitten is seen on Nov. 4, 2020 at the Chilliwack SPCA. Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 is Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 17 to 23

Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day, Pie Day and International Sweatpants Day are all coming up this week

A still from surveillance footage showing a confrontation in the entranceway at Dolly’s Gym on Nicol Street on Friday morning. (Image submitted)
Troublemaker in Nanaimo fails at fraud attempt, slams door on business owner’s foot

VIDEO: Suspect causes pain and damage in incident downtown Friday morning

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials say country will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Randy Brown, owner of Wintergreen Apartments on Fourth Avenue, has five trailers and a motorhome at the back of his property that he is renting to people who had been previously homeless. He wants to put 15 trailers on his property, hooked up to city sewer and water and BC Hydro. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Alberni building owner digs in, refuses to remove illegal trailers

Port Alberni council gives owner two-week reprieve on remediation orders

Lilly and Poppy, two cats owned by Kalmar Cat Hotel ownder Donna Goodenough, both have cerebellAr hypoplasia, a genetic neurological condition that affects their ability to control their muscles and bones. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror
VIDEO: Wobbly Cats a riot of flailing legs and paws but bundles of love and joy to their owner

Woman urges others to not fear adopting cats with disabilities

Dr. Shannon Waters, the medical health officer for the Cowichan Valley Region, is reminding people to stay the course with COVID-19 measures. (File photo)
‘Stay the course’ with COVID measures, Island Health reminds

Limit social activity, wash hands, wear a mask, and isolate if you feel sick

Cowichan Tribes members line up at a drive-up clinic on Wednesday, Jan. 13 to receive the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in the region. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
BCAFN condems racism against Cowichan Tribes after COVID-19 outbreak

“Any one of us could do everything right and still catch the virus”: Regional Chief Terry Teegee.

Most Read