'This shouldn't have happened': Father attributes son's death to COVID-19 rules

INVERMAY, Sask. — People could always tell when Aaron Ogden entered a room.

The 19-year-old had a big presence, said his father, Mark Ogden. He was a prankster, a one-of-a-kind character who would sit and talk to anybody as if he'd known them for years.

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"He wasn't afraid to make friends," Ogden, 50, said in a phone interview. "This is just the way he was.

"Really easy to talk to."

People remembered the young man's outgoing personality at his funeral this week. He died in a Calgary hospital last Saturday after collapsing on a run.

His father, a trucker, was able to be by his son's side.

He said a major blood clot had formed around a stent placed in his son's aorta. The stent was necessary after he survived a serious highway accident on his way to work last year.

"It was a miracle, really."

Ogden said while in hospital before his death, his son told him he was supposed to go for a CT scan in June while still living in Saskatchewan near Yorkton.

It was a routine checkup on the stent, but the appointment was postponed because of restrictions around the COVID-19 pandemic and never rescheduled.

"I didn't think nothing of it at the time, but I mulled it over ... as we watched him decline," Ogden said.

"It hit me. He was trying to tell me: 'This shouldn't have happened.'"

The father believes that had his son's scan not been cancelled, doctors might have found the blood clot in time.

Ogden wants all postponed hospital procedures done immediately.

"People's lives are being lost," he said. "These COVID rules are way too far."

Ogden believes the Saskatchewan Health Authority bears responsibility for his son's death.

"Somebody needs to be held to account."

The health authority halted hundreds of non-urgent surgeries, procedures and diagnostics in March to brace for the pandemic.

Two months later, when the government felt it had a handle on the spread of the novel coronavirus, it announced the resumption of health services would be staggered.

"Emergency and urgent patients are the priority for services, including diagnostic imaging," said Corey Miller, vice-president of provincial programs at the health authority.

"The determination of the priority is based on the evaluation of the referring physician in consultation with the patient."

Miller said they are reviewing Ogden's case and have reached out to his family.

He said the health authority is working through the backlog of exams that were delayed during the first few months of the pandemic.

More than 1,500 CT appointments which had been booked were postponed, he said.

Ogden questions why something like a CT scan couldn't be performed in Yorkton, where the risk of COVID-19 was low.

As of Friday, health officials reported five active cases in the region, which has only seen 33 infections in total since the pandemic hit Saskatchewan.

Cheryl Camillo, a professor with the University of Regina's Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, says speaking generally, delaying non-essential services to respond to COVID-19 was the responsible thing to do because the virus was new and spreading quickly.

"The risks are that some people don't get the essential and urgent services because so much of the workforce and the resources of the health system move towards responding to COVID," said the health systems researcher.

"It's very human for people to get frustrated because health care is something that is so personal."

She says another risk of scaling back is that people can lose confidence in a health system some may perceive as having overplanned for the pandemic.

Health officials are in the tough spot of having to prepare for the worst case scenario and what could be a rapid change in case numbers, she says.

During the pandemic Camillo's own grandmother died in a long-term care home in the United States from isolation and depression, she says.

"I suffered an individual loss of my otherwise pretty healthy grandmother, but despite how profoundly sad that makes me, I understand and would defend the care home's decision to lock down.

"It is the responsibility of public health officials to protect public health."

— By Stephanie Taylor in Regina

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 22, 2020

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