EDMONTON — Wilf Lowenberg says his longtime family friend might still be alive had a hospital emergency department taken her side-effects from a COVID-19 shot more seriously.
Lisa Stonehouse's family has said she went to the ER at the Grey Nuns Community Hospital in Edmonton on April 29 with a severe headache after receiving the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine about a week earlier.
On Monday, she was taken off life support, 12 days after she got the shot, Lowenberg said.
Alberta chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, reported the next day that the 52-year-old woman's death was due to a rare blood clot disorder called vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia, or VITT.
Officials with Covenant Health, the health-care provider that manages the hospital, say they are investigating what happened when Stonehouse visited the ER.
Lowenberg said he understands hospitals are overwhelmed by the pandemic, but his friend at least deserved to be seen.
"If you take the time to go to an emergency room, especially during COVID ... that's saying something," he said.
"If she could have received the help she asked for at Grey Nuns, could that have made a difference?" he asked. "Everyone says that, obviously, early detection is always better."
Lowenberg added no one is out to "cost anyone their job. It's not a witch hunt. We want answers and to raise some awareness."
Stonehouse's death is the third reported in Canada from a blood clot after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine. A 54-year-old Quebec woman and a New Brunswick resident in their 60s also died.
Lowenberg said Stonehouse thought she had the same symptoms many others were having after being vaccinated, then her health worsened.
"She actually called the 811 Health Link line, saying how she was suffering severe headaches. They told her it sounds like your normal reaction to the vaccine (and) sometimes it could take upwards of 14 days to alleviate," he said.
Stonehouse was told to take Tylenol, rest and drink water until the pain subsided, he said.
But it didn't.
During supper the next day, he said, Stonehouse's 19-year-old daughter Jordan told her mother she was taking her to emergency. Stonehouse, who was a self-employed bookkeeper, still had a severe headache and had vomited.
The elder Stonehouse, who lost her husband two years ago after he had a brain aneurysm, told her only child to wait in the car while she went inside for help. She returned quickly.
"She came out, literally, just over five minutes later and ... said, 'Well, they sent me away,'" Lowenberg said.
"She said, 'I told them what was going on and they said, 'No, we can't help you. Sounds like normal symptoms. Go take the Tylenol and, if it doesn't get any worse, then in a week or two come back and see a doctor.'"
The next day, Stonehouse's daughter drove her to a community hospital where a CT scan found a blood clot in her brain. She had a seizure as she was rushed to the University of Alberta hospital.
Stonehouse remained on life support for the weekend and was removed from the machines Monday.
Covenant Health said in a statement that it wants the family to be assured that their concerns are being investigated.
"We offer our deepest condolences to her family and loved ones at this difficult time," said spokeswoman Karen Diaper.
Health Minister Tyler Shandro did not respond to a request for comment.
Curtis Johnson, an intensive care physician at Edmonton's Royal Alexandra Hospital, said Alberta Health Services informed front-line workers about VITT as early as March.
"There's been quite a bit of information that has been circulated to help guide physicians in understanding the risks and knowing what to do if they were to encounter someone with one of these potentially rare (blood clots)," he said.
There have been a dozen reported cases of VITT so far in Canada. Health Canada Chief Medical Adviser Dr. Supriya Sharma said Wednesday that the syndrome for most patients doesn't have to be fatal.
"What's really important to note about these is that it’s something that can be diagnosed and can be treated," she said.
Lowenberg said Jordan Stonehouse, who is his goddaughter and wants to be a nurse, has been strong, even while making funeral arrangements with Mother's Day approaching.
"She's been so brave and strong. She has such an amazing support network around her, but she has taken charge of this whole thing."
Lowenberg said Stonehouse was one of the best mothers he knows.
"She was smart. She was funny. She was always putting everybody else ahead of herself."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press