Heart patient's ordeal eased by great care

Randy Veness was in the Intensive Care unit at Northern Lights Regional Health Centre waiting for word about travelling to Edmonton for heart tests when, as he says, “it went crazy.” The wildfire threatening Fort McMurray had intensified, forcing everyone in the city to flee.

The heavy equipment operator, originally from Fredericton, New Brunswick, had been following the fire updates on his phone from his hospital bed and was in constant contact with his 21-year-old son and 25-year-old daughter, encouraging them to leave, when he found out the hospital was being evacuated.

Randy describes the scene as he waited for an ambulance in a wheelchair outside the Emergency department.

“It was surreal. I was listening to the crackling of flames and the smell was strong.... There was ash. When you get one of those cold snows and there are just a few flakes, and it just brushes out of the way when you walk—that was what it was like."

Photo taken by Randy from his wheelchair as he waited for an ambulance to take him to safety.

Randy left at 5 p.m. It would be trek of several hours north by ambulance before he reached a temporary staging area, then a few hours more before he was flown by air ambulance to the Edmonton International Airport. 

“This was all thrust upon everybody, so they had to get supplies together and logistics together; it was quite a quite a job for them. There were people in different states of readiness and health. They just decided these three people are going on this flight and these people have to go now. It was quite amazing,” says Randy.

After being triaged at the Edmonton airport, Randy was brought to the Grey Nuns Community Hospital and admitted to the Cardiac Care unit.

“It has been nothing but professional. From Fort McMurray to here in Edmonton at the Grey Nuns, the care has been outstanding under very difficult circumstances."

Randy is pretty sure his house is one of the hundreds that has been destroyed, so all the belongings he has left are in the small duffle bag he brought to the hospital. But instead of feeling sorry for himself, he is full of gratitude, particularly because his children are safe.

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