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New Brunswick family pushes for health-care improvements after three-year-old daughter dies

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At just three and a half years old, Cyntia Bou Melhem was larger than life.

“She was so active, dancing, calm, organized, joyful,” said her father, Mohamad Bou Melhem.

Cyntia was learning English, French and Arabic, she did gymnastics and she loved playing with her older sister.

“Everyone loved her in the daycare and all our relatives, our families, they were… when they see her they were excited,” he said.

On Jan. 25, Cyntia came down with a fever.

By the 27th, after two days of medication like Tylenol and Ibuprofen, her mother took her to the George Dumont Hospital in Moncton when the young girl started to throw up.

Bou Melhem took a taxi to the hospital that evening since his wife had the car.

“I ask what happened, what’s going on, what they did for her, if there’s something new, she told me, my wife, no she’s only vomiting even with the IV for anti-vomiting, she’s vomiting all the time,” he said.

Bou Melhem says she spent 12 hours in the emergency department on IV medication for anti-nausea before being admitted to the pediatric ward around midnight where he says she seized at least twice.

He said Cyntia had a seizure once before when she was one and a half years old. At that time, she was given a CT scan and the results came back clear, however, given her history her parents advocated to the doctors that ibuprofen worked best at keeping her temperature down when she was sick.

“They took her to the adult ICU and they intubated her and they give her, I don’t know what medication they gave her now, and they called the EHS, emergency health services – they move them by plane from city to city, so they transferred her the second day at 2 p.m. to the pediatric ICU IWK.”

On Feb. 11, Cyntia died in Halifax.

“Why do we need to fly from here to Halifax? Why,” asked Bou Melhem.

“I knew there was a problem in the health-care system, but not like this.”

Consumed with grief, the family is now pushing for change in New Brunswick.

Bou Melhem wants to see more family doctors, more walk-in clinics, and most importantly, a children’s hospital for the province.

“Why are there many families suffering here in New Brunswick? Many families. I’m not fighting about only my daughter,” he said.

“I’m fighting about all families who have kids.”

He says that his family and two young children had better health care and better access to doctors when they were living in Saudi Arabia just seven months ago.

“Here there is not even walk in clinics,” he said.

“Walk in clinic you need to wait. You have to go at the opening of the clinic and maybe you can find appointment, maybe you can’t find an appointment and many walk in clinic they are closed now and many of walk in clinics they don’t answer their phone and when you call them, the answering machine say, don’t come [to the] front door.”

The family is still waiting for an autopsy report, but today, Bou Melhem is questioning the care that Cyntia received at George Dumont.

“They didn’t act how they should act for a pediatric patient,” he said.

“They didn’t act fast, they didn’t dig very well, they didn’t do the right work flow.”

CTV News reached out to Vitalité Health Network to ask specifically about Cyntia’s case and experience at the George Dumont Hospital.

In an emailed statement the network said it “cannot comment directly on specific patient related situations that may or may not have occurred.”

Adding that, “any complaint should be directed to the Patient Experience Department. All complaints are taken seriously as they may provide us with an opportunity to improve our services and processes. They undergo analysis and are followed up with the concerned patient or their relatives.”

On Friday, General Director of Hospital Operations at the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre, Lisa Lyn Roy said children’s health is always a priority.

While her response wasn’t specific to Cyntia’s case, she said in an email, “on January 27, 2024, the average waiting time at the Emergency Pediatrics Unit of the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre, for patients aged 0 to 4 years old, was 1h08min.”

Cyntia’s family held two services to honour her life: one took place in Halifax on Feb. 13 and one in Moncton on Feb. 17.

Now as the family’s fight for better health care begins, they remember Cyntia and hope her short life will lead to change.

“She made joy everywhere,” said Bou Melham.

For more New Brunswick news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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