Emergency brain surgery saves Nunavik man

Luc Larouche of Puvirnituq is alive today, thanks to Dr. Roman Andruziak’s battery-powered hardware store drill.

By JANE GEORGE

Puvirnituq resident Luc Larouche knows that he’s a lucky man.

On July 24, Larouche underwent emergency brain surgery at Puvirnituq’s Inuulitsivik Health Centre, not long after he had received a blow from a stone on the right side of his head.

Dr. Roman Andruziak performed the surgery ­ the first of its kind ever in Nunavik ­ with an ordinary, battery-operated hand drill.

“I’m very happy about the performance of the doctors,” says Larouche, who is now recuperating at Montreal General Hospital. “They did everything to save me. They didn’t have the proper equipment, but they did what they could.”

Assaulted by local resident

A local resident threw the stone at Larouche, apparently in anger. Larouche went to report this incident to the police, but then he collapsed in their office.

When Dr. Andruziak first examined Larouche, who is director of personnel at Inuulitsivik, his condition was relatively stable. Plans were quickly made to medevac him out.

“I called the neurosurgeon, and he said to ship him down to Montreal,” recalls Dr. Andruziak.

Facing death

But not long afterwards, the pupil in Larouche’s left eye began to expand, “a sign of impending doom,” according to the doctor. The stone’s impact had broken an artery, which was spilling blood into Larouche’s skull.

Brain damage or even death can quickly result when the brain is under this kind of extreme pressure.

With no surgical equipment handy, Dr. Andruziak and medical technician Robert Fournier picked out a quarter-inch drill bit for the handheld drill and sterilized it. Dr. Andruziak, who was about to perform the brain surgery, had only assisted at a couple of ceasarian sections during his residency.

But an emergency operation, he felt, was the best option, if Larouche was going to survive at all.

“It’s crazy,” he says. “But I felt that this was the logical alternative. I went by instinct.”

Neurologist helped by phone

Mid-way during the operation, Dr. Peter Richardson, a neurologist from the Montreal General, called, and, drill in hand, Dr. Andruziak consulted with him briefly.

The emergency room where the impromptu operation was held was filled with hospital staff, one of whom held Dr. Andruziak’s elbow steady as he drilled delicately through Larouche’s skull to relieve the pressure on his brain.

Another held Larouche’s head to make sure that it remained in place when pieces of his skull had to be forcibly pulled off.

“I never breathed a sigh of relief,” says the doctor. “That is, until he was transferred on to a Challenger in Kuujjuaraapik. The pressure was gone, but he still had a gaping wound on the side of his head. It was a spectacular transfer.”

Larouche is now making a good recovery at Montreal General Hospital. His wife, Lizzie Ivillak, and his friends and co-workers in Puvirnituq are delighted at his amazing recovery.

“I thought he was going to die,” says medical technician Fournier.

Racial tension?

Yet because of the viciousness of the attack on Larouche, non-Inuit staff at the hospital are reportedly on edge.

“Someone who’s been here for 20 years and that happens!” says one Qallunaaq employee. “It shakes you up.”

Relations between Inuit and Qallunaat in Puvirnituq have been uneasy in the past. Back in 1993, one teacher left the community after been beaten by a local man, while later that same year, teachers’ homes were vandalized over the Christmas holidays.

But overall, the experience remains a positive one for Dr. Andruziak.

“Most of the time you don’t get to make a difference. Sometimes you just watch people suffer,” he says. “In medicine there is so much to learn. One time you succeed, the next time you may flop. You have to stay on your toes.”

A member of the Kativik regional police department told Nunatsiaq News that they’ve turned their investigation over to the Sureté-Quebec.

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