Sackville family wonders about life-saving treatment if ER closes overnight

Laura Noel's 5-year-old son Owen Bornemann needs quick access to an emergency room at all times due to his life-threatening food allergies but with overnight closures looming she isn't sure how to keep the boy safe. 

The family takes great pains to try and keep Owen safe from the residue of wheat, milk, egg, peanuts, sesame and tree nuts. It takes diligence on the part of his parents and his 10 year-old brother Felix.

Everyone washes their hands when they enter the house and they change clothes if they have been around any foods that could trigger a reaction.

Tori Weldon/CBC

They are careful because Owen's allergic reactions send him into anaphylactic shock.

"It's like a bomb going off," said Noel. "He usually throws up, he swells up incredibly, he has trouble breathing, his eyes will swell so much that they bleed and it's terrifying."

It's happened four times in his young life, and each time his parents have had to use two EpiPens and an inhaler to keep his airways open on the two-kilometre drive to the emergency room at the Sackville Memorial Hospital.

 "We just take him instead of calling the ambulance, it takes too long," said Noel.

Closures coming

On Feb. 11 the province announced it would be closing emergency rooms in six rural hospitals as of March 11. The Sackville Memorial Hospital is on that list. 

Karen McGrath, CEO of Horizon Health, said each of the three Horizon Health hospitals only saw five patients a night on average, and that each hospital is within 75 kilometres of another emergency room in the province.

'16 minutes is too far'

Owen's parents don't know exactly how many minutes their son can survive after his reaction starts, but they don't want to find out.

The closest 24-hour emergency room is in Amherst N.S, 20 kilometres further than their local hospital.

Moncton's two 24-hour emergency rooms are more than 50 kilometres away. Laura isn't sure the ambulance is equipped to keep Owen alive long enough to get there.

It takes a town

The family doesn't yet want to think about moving because people in the community are part of their support system.

Tori Weldon/CBC

"There's a lot of people who know our situation and you know they say, 'oh there's an ice cream cone over there on the playground, avoid that area'," said Laura. 

Owen was able to attend playschool last September, one of the first times he was around other children his age.

"We've worked really hard obviously with playschool and with all those 38 families to create this little safe haven for Owen to go out and make friends and be a friend," Laura said.  

Aside from the community support, Laura said she's spent years putting together a team that helps Owen with other issues related to his compromised immune system.

"It takes a long time to put these things into place and it's not something you can just move with you."

Owen's father, James Bornemann, said it often takes months before Owen can see his pediatrician, so a March deadline for ER service cuts isn't enough time to work out the next steps. 

"We love him so much, we have to really do whatever it takes to keep him safe, healthy, and happy."