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N.S. woman describes struggles of a beloved father on ventilator with COVID-19


The daughter of a Nova Scotia man relying on a ventilator to breathe wants Canadians to know that COVID-19 can deny loved ones the ability to hold one another in their time of deepest need.

Kelly Marshall says she's telling her family's story to encourage others to follow the directives of public health officials aimed at curbing the pandemic's spread.

The 39-year-old has watched her 69-year-old father, Rick Cameron, go from aches and pains to being hospitalized on a ventilator within the span of one week. Her mother, Faye Cameron, has also tested positive for the virus and is ill at home.

The family's struggle began more than two weeks after Rick Cameron returned from Florida on Feb. 22, though the original source of infection remains uncertain.

Marshall and her husband Brian — who were living with her parents due to a fire at their own home — have also shown symptoms and are in quarantine.

Her father's illness progressed rapidly and by March 19, he couldn't hear his daughter speak to him as he tried to catch his breath, and was taken to hospital in an ambulance.

Marshall says one of the cruelest features of the disease is how it denies children and spouses the ability to visit and touch loved ones who are fighting for breath in hospital.

"When somebody's sick you want to be there and hold them and hug them — and it's the one thing you can't do with this," she said during a recent telephone interview from her home.

"When we got the news, I watched my mother break down and I couldn't even console her due to her having the illness. I wanted a hug from my Mom and I couldn't get it."

Meanwhile, she says the smallest details of her family's daily life have been turned upside down due to COVID-19's presence in the home.

"Even a simple thing like brushing our teeth has changed. It could be harmful to somebody. You really have to be conscientious of everything you do," she said.

Each day, Marshall repeatedly cleans and then disinfects her mother's room as she cares for her.

She said her father always preferred to be upfront about difficult subjects and to discuss them openly. It's that attitude that is motivating her to speak publicly about the disease, she said.

"He always taught me that knowledge is power. I want people to educate themselves so they can have this power," she said.

She describes her dad as an extrovert, who before retirement worked at the Michelin plant in Granton for decades and had also coached hockey in Pictou County.

Over the past 40 years, other than the occasional cold, Cameron "had perfect health," she said.

Dr. Zahid Butt, an infectious disease epidemiologist and professor at the University of Waterloo department of public health, said in an interview that the general scientific consensus is there is a higher risk of complications from COVID-19 for patients in their late 60s and older.

He cited a study from Imperial College in London, U.K., where the mean case fatality rate for adults aged under 60 is estimated to be less than 0.2 per cent, compared with 9.3 per cent in those aged over 80.

An analysis of eight studies completed by Chinese researchers who looked at 46,248 COVID-19 patients, indicated those with the most severe form of the disease were more likely to have underlying conditions of hypertension, respiratory disease, and cardiovascular disease.

Researchers, however, are still trying to understand why some otherwise healthy people such as Cameron become severely ill, Butt said.

Nova Scotia had 127 cases of COVID-19 as of Monday, and Cameron is among four people who are hospitalized in the province with the disease.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority said in an email that as of last week, more than half of its 120 intensive care beds were available for COVID-19 patients, adding that also means there are the trained staff available to work on those units.

It said normally the ICU beds are 90 per cent occupied by non-COVID-19 patients, but there has been extensive work done to keep the beds clear.

In Ontario, critical care data received by CBC indicated that as of Monday, one in four intensive care unit beds in that province were filled with suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19.

However, Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, said on Sunday that Ontario is two-to-three weeks ahead of Nova Scotia in the progress of the pandemic, and the larger province "has much more disease."

Meanwhile, as of Monday afternoon, Cameron remained heavily sedated and had a high temperature, and his daughter said it's expected he'd remain in that state for several weeks.

"He's a fighter. He's fighting," she said.

Her sister is keeping family and friends aware of Cameron's condition on a blog titled "Rick Cameron: His road to recovery," detailing the small increments of improvement.

"The doctor says, 'Maybe a centimetre of progress' ... They are seeing what they expect to see in a COVID patient suffering from respiratory failure and it is a slow recovery," a recent blog post said. "X-rays show COVID pneumonia on both lungs."

For Marshall, a steady flow of good wishes since her first public statements last week have been a blessing amidst struggle, but her purpose remains to ask Canadians to obey orders to keep a physical distance between themselves and others.

"Dad would be so happy if this helps someone," she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 30, 2020.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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