IH to declare outbreak over soon, but family still grieving loss of young son

By on February 6, 2018

Lee Pratt and his son Aidan are shown here enjoying some wonderful family time together. It was hard for Lee Pratt to get excited on Monday after hearing Interior Health’s announcement that almost 15,000 immunizations were administered in the Okanagan Valley since an outbreak was declared on Dec. 14. Pratt is still seeking answers from Interior Health as to why his son had to die “needlessly” from a deadly form of the meningitis bacteria. (Contributed photo)

Although Interior Health (IH) is optimistic that the meningococcal outbreak will soon be over, an Oliver couple is still grieving their son’s death, saying more could have been done for him and the community.

It was hard for Lee Pratt to get excited on Monday after hearing IH’s announcement that 14,486 immunizations were administered in the Okanagan since the outbreak on Dec. 14. He is still seeking answers from the health authority as to why his son had to die “needlessly.”

In a news conference Monday, Medical Health Officer Dr. Karin Goodison said there has not been a diagnosed case in the 15-19 age group since the outbreak was declared in mid-December.

She stated there have been 12 cases of the disease in the IH region, with 50 per cent (six of them) in the Okanagan. Three of these cases were identified in the Oliver area.

One case involved 19-year-old Aidan Pratt, who died on Oct. 12.

Meningitis is a bacterial infection that inflames the lining of the brain, triggering symptoms including headache, fever, vomiting and stiff neck. Pratt suffered most of these symptoms.

Goodison didn’t officially identify the young man, but confirmed that he was diagnosed with the disease. However, it is not known what the true cause of death was. She pointed out there could have been other contributing factors.

Lee Pratt told the Oliver Chronicle that his son died a preventable death and nobody was accountable.

“The kid died screaming on the bathroom floor wanting his dad.”

The contractor by trade said Aidan bled to death from the inside out, noting his son did have a pre-existing ulcer. But he firmly believes the meningitis killed him.

When Aidan started showing symptoms, such as throwing up and having headaches, his father took him to South Okanagan General Hospital. But after three hours, Aidan was sent home and told to see his family doctor, Pratt said.

After seeing their physician, Aidan was simply prescribed stomach medication.

“The doctor said he didn’t need tests and sent him home.”

Aidan died 15 days later.

Pratt said he was the one who told the coroner to run tests, which later indicated that Aidan had lesions in the brain.

“They (healthcare professionals) should have ordered the tests right away,” Pratt said.

He also believes that IH should have alerted the public sooner than it did.

Nearly one month after Aidan’s death, IH publicly confirmed two cases of the disease in students at Southern Okanagan Secondary School.

While the immunization program in Oliver was underway, IH said it was made aware on Nov. 14 of a third individual (Pratt) who contracted the disease in October.

“This individual did not attend Southern Okanagan Secondary, but had social linkages to the school,” she said.

As a result, IH expanded immunizations to Oliver, Osoyoos and Okanagan Falls residents aged 15-24.

Goodison noted that IH did conduct an awareness response in Oliver earlier than other areas. But she could not offer more information on Pratt’s case due to privacy issues.

On Monday, she said they’ve had great success with the immunizations, but is urging the 18-19 age group to get vaccinated. She noted a lot of people in this age group are starting college and university and are exposed to new environments and locations.

Meningitis is transmitted via close personal contact with other people who have the bacteria. The act of kissing, coughing, sneezing, and sharing water bottles can transmit the disease.

“If you know someone in the Okanagan who is in this age group, please encourage them to get immunized while the vaccine is available,” Goodison said.

Free immunizations are available at health centres and select Shoppers Drug Mart and London Drugs locations.

In the meantime, Interior Health expects to declare an end to the outbreak on Feb. 13, assuming no additional cases of meningococcal disease are reported over the next few days.

After the outbreak is declared over, only students in Grade 9 and 10 will be eligible to receive this vaccine for free at health centres. (To see a full list of where to obtain the meningococcal quadrivalent vaccine, visit interiorheath.ca.)

Goodison couldn’t explain why, but she pointed out that the IH region has been hit with more cases of meningitis than other areas of BC, and in Canada, for that matter.

“The Okanagan has a much higher rate . . . we’re not sure why. We don’t understand what is unique about this population here.”

Asked if this will be a pattern every year, Goodison said they don’t think so considering the amount of people who have been protected through immunization. Future outbreaks will be less likely, she said.

But Pratt stated he and his wife are feeling victimized all over again.

“We’re not getting any answers. We have to relive it every week.”

Pratt said IH has left it up to him and his wife to clean up the mess.

“We want accountability for this. My son was accountable . . . too many professionals, in my opinion, are getting away with shit that wouldn’t happen in the blue-collar world.”

Pratt said he is not prepared to let the situation blow over, which he says Interior Health is counting on.

“The medical professionals are closing ranks (on this).”

The grieving father is scheduled to meet with local MLA Linda Larson this week to discuss the matter.

Pratt said the worst part of all this is when Interior Health asked him to track down all of the young people whom Aidan had contact with.

“I was phoning kids, scared that my son had passed it on … we love these kids. Why the f—k did I do their (Interior Health’s) job for them?”

Pratt said he was also blown away by the fact he had to prove to their doctor that Aidan was his son before any medical information could be released.

LYONEL DOHERTY

Special to the Times

Aiden Pratt. (Contributed photo)

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