Conor James O’Rourke was born in Royal Inland Hospital on July 6, a healthy baby boy of Dominic O’Rourke and Roberta Anderson of Kamloops.
Conor weighed in at seven pounds, two ounces, was in perfect health and left the hospital within 24 hours of his birth.
“I’ve always wanted a son and I’ve always wanted to call him Conor,” Dominic said.
“I didn’t think I could have a son. I’m 45 and that’s the name I’ve wanted to have for my boy for 20 years.”
A month later, on Aug. 6, the baby was back in RIH, fighting for his life due to an urgent — and inexplicable — illness, eventually passing away in the early-morning hours of Aug. 7.
The sudden death and the events surrounding his stay in RIH have his parents seeking answers, foremost of which are why mom and baby waited an hour to see a triage nurse in the emergency room and why a planned air transport to BC Children’s Hospital was delayed until Conor was not stable enough to fly.
On Aug. 6, Roberta tried feeding one-month-old Conor at 8:30 a.m.
The baby, who did not eat the previous night, swallowed a bit of food that morning, but then threw it up.
Roberta called the HealthLink BC 811 line after taking Conor’s temperature, which was at 34.1 C.
After being told there was a 30-minute wait to speak to a health-care professional, and after waiting on the phone for one hour and 45 minutes, Roberta said she hung up, grabbed Conor and, with Dominic, went to RIH’s emergency room.
At that point, she said, Conor’s lips were beginning to turn purple and he was starting to feel cold.
Roberta and Dominic spoke to a receptionist at the door to the ER, told her why they were there and completed a COVID-19 questionnaire.
Roberta and Conor were admitted to the ER waiting room, but Dominic was sent home as pandemic protocols permitted only one person to stay with the baby.
Roberta said she spent an hour in the ER waiting room before she was seen by a triage nurse.
“And when the triage nurse seen us, I started crying. I’m like, ‘He’s turning purple. I don’t know what’s going on. He’s cold,’” Roberta recounted.
“And the triage nurse said, ‘I don’t like the way he looks’ and rushed me into the back.”
After being hooked up to a heart monitor, oxygen supply and an ECG monitor, Roberta and Dominic (who had returned and was allowed to be with his family) were told Conor had supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), which causes an abnormal heart rhythm.
A regular heartbeat for an infant is between 130 and 150 beats per minute, while Conor’s was beating at 270 beats per minute.
During an episode of SVT, the heartbeat is not controlled by the normal timer of the heart and another part of the heart overrides the timer with faster impulses.
The couple was told Conor was dehydrated from not eating all night, which led to nursing staff struggling to get an IV into him, and that doctors at RIH were on the phone with their medical peers at BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver.
As medical staff continued to work on Conor as the hours progressed, several attempts to insert needles into Conor’s bone to insert heart medicine were made before a successful insertion was done.
The baby’s heart returned briefly to a normal beat before beginning to again race.
A higher dose did not fix the problem, with the couple told a last resort would be to shock the heart.
In the meantime, Roberta said, she was told a plane to transport Conor would arrive in Kamloops at 4 p.m., with room for only one parent.
A decision was made to have Roberta fly to Vancouver with Conor, while Dominic drove.
Roberta and Dominic went home to pack some bags and received a call, informing them medical staff had to shock Conor’s heart, but that he was stable.
When they arrived back at RIH, Roberta said, they were told the air transport was delayed until 8 p.m.
A decision was then made for Dominic to begin driving to Vancouver at about 5:30 p.m. so he could meet Roberta and Conor when they arrived following their flight.
After Dominic left and was on the Coquihalla Highway, Roberta said she was told the plane hadn’t arrived at 8 p.m. and would instead be landing in Kamloops at midnight at the latest.
“That’s my biggest issue, right there,” Dominic said. “I believe if he had been taken down to Children’s Hospital in the first place, he’d be here with us right now.
“What they did tell us at one point is that it goes by priority,” he recalled.
“They said in the morning, he was a priority, so they’d be there at four. But then for some reason, he wasn’t a priority anymore because they thought he was stable.”
The BC Emergency Health Services told KTW that a patient transfer request was logged with BCEHS’s patient transfer network on Aug. 6 at 3:12 p.m.
The BCEHS said its patient transfer network immediately logged the case and requested transport with its infant transport team (ITT) from Royal Inland Hospital to BC Children’s Hospital’s cardiology unit.
“The transfer was identified as ‘Red,’ which indicates the patient has a condition, illness or injury that is life-threatening,” the BCEHS told KTW via email.
“There were ITT crews available, but the specially equipped air ambulances were already tasked with competing Red patient transfers when this request came in.
“The first available air ambulance jet responded and an ITT crew landed at Kamloops airport at 10:20 p.m., arriving at the hospital at 11:12 p.m.
“We know this is a devastating loss for this family and we want to ensure the family’s concerns and questions are answered and will work with the Patient Care Quality Office to address them.”
The medical report states the ITT crew arrived at Royal Inland Hospital at 11:15 p.m. on Aug. 6 to prepare Conor for transfer.
At 12:11 a.m. and 12:41 a.m. on Aug. 7, Conor had two episodes of significant bradycardia (a slower than normal heart rate) and non-palpable pulses.
Conor was pronounced dead at 1:07 a.m.
“At no point did anybody mention that death might be on the table,” Dominic said.
Both Dominic and Roberta said they were told by medical staff that SVT is something that babies usually bounce out of quickly after treatment and that people can live, full, healthy lives with the condition.
“We thought we were taking our baby in and we’d be home in a hour,” he said.
“How it escalated, I don’t know. What I do know is all day long, they kept poking holes along his head, in his arms, in his legs. They couldn’t get into his veins, to the point they collapsed his veins.”
During the entire time in RIH, O’Rourke said, they were never told the situation was critical.
“The thing that bothers me as well is that never at any point in time were we made aware of how severe this was,” he said.
Roberta, pointing to Conor’s pages-long medical report, said: “In here, they sure make it sound like it was.”
The medical report details the treatment Conor received and cites likely cause of death: supraventricular tachycardia, along with comorbidities — likely heart failure/cardiomyopathy secondary to SVT, progressive metabolic acidosis and hypoglyecemia.
The medical report notes “IV access was very difficult for this baby.” As Conor’s condition worsened, a decision was made to do cardioversion without sedation.
Cardioversion is a procedure in which a high-energy shock is sent to the heart to reset a normal rhythm.
“This was very effective and he converted into normal sinus rhythm with a heart rate at about 180. It was previously around 240,” the medical report states. “In our NICU (neonatal intensive-care unit), his rhythm stayed in normal sinus rhythm with no conversion back to SVT at any time.”
The report noted that Conor was “quite stable” in the nursery from about 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., when a peripheral IV was finally obtained.
“Shortly after IV insertion, baby had a sudden onset of worsening colour, progressive work of breathing and desaturation events,” the report states.
From then to his death four hours later, the medical report documents a number of medical crises tended to by staff employing resuscitation, CPR and epinephrine, among other responses.
The report concludes: “Overall the medical impression is that Conor likely had prolonged SVT leading to cardiomyopathy,” noting the tragic outcome “was certainly an atypical outcome for SVT in a neonate, which prompts whether there was an underlying structural heart condition or metabolic disorder contributing to the clinical picture. An autopsy may be helpful to understand this further.”
Dominic said the coroner said the baby was healthy, but for a slightly enlarged, but healthy heart. And Dominic noted the coroner said the enlarged heart could have been due to the intense treatment Conor received that day.
Full autposy results won’t be known for some time.
“He was perfectly healthy in every way. I was so happy and grateful for that when he was born,” Dominic said.
Roberta said that, nine days before being rushed to the RIH ER, she and Dominic took Conor in for a circumcision and he was looked over by a pediatrician.
“The pediatrician listened to his heart and everything and said he was perfectly healthy and really good-looking,” she said.
At that appointment, the couple noted Conor would get cranky, get gassy and not eat at night, but they were told it was likely colic.
“But he was a pretty happy baby,” O’Rourke said. “He’d just sit there and chill and stare at the world.”
Roberta wonders why, when staff were told there would be a delay in air transport, Conor was not sent to BC Children’s Hospital by ambulance while he was stable.
“I think the biggest problem we see, and everything to do with it, is that hospitals everywhere are severely underfunded,” Dominic said.
“Our government is failing miserably. Every day, this hospital is in the headlines. My biggest thing through the whole thing is, why didn’t you just send him down to Vancouver earlier?” he said.
“Obviously, they’re saying [in the medical report] they realized it was serious when we were unaware of that. Why wouldn’t they just go down there? It’s my biggest question of the day because I believe he would be here right now if they had done that.”
Dominic’s brother has helped the couple initiate a request for a patient care quality review.
“This shouldn’t have happened, as far as I am concerned, and I don’t know how often it is happening and I don’t want other people to not go home with their babies,” Dominic said.
In response to a query from KTW, Interior Health said: “Interior Health knows this is a devastating situation for this family and our hearts are with them during this difficult time. We cannot speak to an individual case, but we can confirm that we are conducting a full investigation. We are in contact with the family and share what we are able from the review with them directly.”
A family friend has created an online campaign to raise money to help Dominic and Roberta as Dominic is the family’s sole provider and was unable to return to work until just last week.
Go online to gofundme.com and search “Support for the grieving parents of little Conor.”