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Facing blackouts and long waits, this St. John’s man is thanking virtual care for saving his life

Dylan Harris of St. John’s is crediting a virtual emergency room with saving his life after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. (Martin Jones/CBC)

After waiting hours in an emergency room without finding an explanation for his condition, a St. John’s man is thanking a virtual clinic for saving his life.

Dylan Harris had been experiencing headaches and blackouts for months, often triggered by sneezing or coughing that could happen anywhere or any time.

“Just sneezing or coughing would cause total blackout. Like, just gone. It happened while I was driving on the highway, just sneeze and then I’m gone doing 100 kilometres an hour down Pitts Memorial Drive,” Harris told CBC News.

“It happened once and you kind of went ‘that was pretty weird’ … and then within a day or two it happened again.”

The blackouts brought Harris and his wife, Dominique, to the emergency room at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s. But a backlog of patients led to a long wait the resulted in no answers — just uncertainty about what the future would look like.

“My favourite band is the [Tragically] Hip. Gord Downie died of terminal brain cancer. No matter who you are, that’s where your mind goes. 100 per cent. It’s hard not to,” he said.

WATCH | Dylan Harris tells the CBC’s Henrike Wilhelm how a virtual clinic appointment changed his life: 

Virtual ER saved my life, St. John’s man says

Dylan Harris learned he had a tumor with a cystic mass on his brain

Not long after his emergency room visit, Harris turned to a virtual clinic led by Dr. Todd Young in Springdale. After a number of tests, meetings and about six to eight weeks, he learned he had a tumour with a cystic mass the size of an egg on his brain.

Harris and his partner, Dominique, say having virtual care available could help people who don’t have a family doctor. (Martin Jones/CBC)

“If I hadn’t had gotten diagnosed, I would have probably died while driving, really soon,” Harris said. 

“I just met Young face to face last week, and he said the same thing.… That could have been the end.”

Harris has since had a successful surgery to remove the tumour and is now in recovery.

I think it opens up a whole new avenue for a lot of people.– Dominique Harris

Young says Harris’s story highlights the strain across the province when it comes to emergency room wait times.

More than 125,000 people in Newfoundland and Labrador don’t have a family doctor, according to the province’s medical association, which is causing more people to go to the hospital seeking care.

“I think there is a common denominator in most ERs now that there are extended wait times for patients,” Young said Thursday.

“In Dylan’s story, sitting in the emergency room at the Health Sciences Centre for an extended period of time with the symptoms that he was having, he probably shouldn’t have had to wait that long.”

The Harrises say they’re thankful they had the virtual care option.

Dr. Todd Young operates a medical clinic in Springdale and owns Medicuro Virtual Health. (Colleen Connors/CBC )

“The continuity of care, and the fact that you can build a rapport with your patients even though it’s done virtually is amazing. I think it opens up a whole new avenue for a lot of people,” Dominique said.

It’s important for the virtual-care service to continue growing in the province, Young said. While it’s not the same as face-to-face interaction with a doctor or nurse practitioner, he said, it can be a valuable tool in places with staffing problems..

“This is not to replace family doctors, this is not to replace emergency rooms,” he said.

“Virtual is a good option, but I think excellent virtual care by video, where we can definitely do better assessments and things like that … adds a more viable, professional, confident option.”

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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