Grieving Igloolik mom buries her baby today

Nunavut nurses ignored medical history information


This afternoon, Lizzie Qulitalik of Igloolik buries her nine-month-old daughter, who died at home Feb. 19 after a short sickness that led to what Qulitalik believes was a preventable death.

“Remembering that week she was sick, I am a little angry because it [her death] could have been prevented,” Qulitalik said in a telephone interview on the morning of Feb. 28.

The grieving mother’s only comfort: knowing her daughter is in a better place, where there is no more sickness.

Nothing can bring back little Qaunirq, a baby she describes as “pure.”

“Every time I woke up, she was there, she was special, making us happy. She was so gentle,” Qulitalik recalled.

But even as she mourns, Qulitalik is mulling whether to pursue legal action against the Government of Nunavut’s handling of Qaunirq’s illness and its medical workers’ reluctance to medevac her baby to a hospital for more specialized medical treatment.

“After the autopsy, I kept on thinking they could have done something if they had sent her out instead of [my] just bringing her home,” Qulitalik said.

Qulitalik brought Qaunirq to the local nursing station three times and three times she was told to go back home with the baby.

Nurses armed her with different kinds of medication and oxygen, and gave her advice that turned out to be fatally wrong.

“I brought her there, and when they were done with her, they asked me to make an appointment in two days. They’d been doing that for a little over a week,” Qulitalik said.

Although Qaunirq didn’t cry much, it was obvious in other ways to Qulitalik that her baby was sick: “she was really pale. I told the nurse she was too pale and I was really concerned about her.”

The nurse told her that Qaunirq was doing much better and advised her to wait until she saw “blue in the lips” before bringing the baby back.

Since her birth on May 7, 2010, Qaunirq had already suffered from a urinary infection, which required seven days of intravenous treatment at the Qikiqtani General Hospital, Qulitalik said.

A doctor there had advised Qulitalik to get her daughter to Ottawa if the infection re-occurred.

Qulitalik said she mentioned this medical history to nurses in Igloolik.

“They kept on taking her temperature, and her heart rate and not so much [looking at] the urinary infection,” she said.

Qaunirq was quite sick even on first occasion that her mother took her to see a nurse, suffering first from a cold, followed by a fever.

“Since she was under a year, it would have been better to send her away, but she never went,” Qulitalik said.

An autopsy confirmed that Qaunirq died of influenza. It also showed signs of a urine infection and found “her liver was pussy.”

“I think that could have been prevented if she was sent out. Yes, I am willing to take action,” Qulitalik said.

The death of her daughter carries a message for other Nunavummiut, who might suffer from similar treatment on behalf of health and social services workers.

“Inuit need to stand up, not just be told this and that,” Qulitalik said. “Why not let them listen to us, what we have to say?”

Nunavut’s health and social services department has refused to comment on individual cases.

But on Feb. 28 Amittuq MLA Louis Tapardjuk, speaking in the Nunavut legislature, asked his colleagues to keep Qaunirq’s parents, Qulitalik and Conrad Ataguttaaluk, in their thoughts.

“We are experiencing sorrow in our community. I would like to mention these two individuals, and I urge and encourage my colleagues to work towards a better future down the road. So let’s keep these people who are in sorrow right now in our thoughts and prayers,” Tapardjuk said.

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