B.C. woman sues after husband dies of undiagnosed flesh-eating disease

A woman from Lake Country, B.C., has filed a civil lawsuit against four doctors at Fort St. John Hospital and the Northern Health Authority after her husband and father of her young son died of necrotizing fasciitis, also known as the flesh-eating disease.

Britney Stewart says her 40-year-old husband, Josh Wakely, an experienced welder, went to the emergency room at Ft. St. John Hospital three times in three days while away from home at a work camp in February 2020.

His symptoms progressed each visit, from a severe sore throat on Feb. 24 to crippling back pain by Feb. 26, then swelling and numbness in his hand noted the next day.

“He’s not the kind of guy to go to the doctor and say, ‘I’m sick,’ so I knew the severity was pretty bad,” said Stewart, who was at home in Lake Country caring for their then two-year-old son Mason.

Stewart says each time he visited the ER, her husband was sent away with medication.

Wakely’s back pain was so severe at one point, according to the notice of civil claim, that he’d taken 12 tablets of Robaxacet, seven tablets of Advil, seven tablets of Motrin and one tablet of Tylenol with codeine, and still rated his pain at 10 out of 10.

He was given three medications during that visit to treat what doctors thought at the time was a muscle spasm and sacroiliitis, and was then sent home with some Tylenol No. 3 with codeine, Stewart’s lawsuit claims.

Doctors told Wakely his back pain was likely from an old injury, though Stewart argues in her lawsuit that there was no history of trauma, and that his swollen hand could be from power tool vibration.

When his condition continued to deteriorate, Stewart drove the 2,000 kilometres to Fort St. John to pick her husband up and bring him home. When he became incoherent the next day, Wakely was rushed by ambulance to Kelowna General Hospital.

“They put him on life support right away,” said Stewart. “The doctors took one look at him and said they knew it was strep A and that it had turned into flesh-eating disease, and his organs were shutting down.”

Doctors attempted surgery to remove the tissue impacted by the rapidly spreading infection. “They had to take, I think it was 30 per cent of the left side of his body, which there was really no coming back from that,” said Stewart.

Eight days after first visiting hospital with a sore throat, Wakely was dead from necrotising fasciitis, which doctors had failed to diagnose during his three ER visits in Fort St. John.

“It just blows my mind that a healthy 40-year-old man with a sore throat didn’t get a swab done. It seems like such a standard practice in all doctors’ offices that I have been to, so why wasn’t it in that ER that day? And I do believe if he got the medication and the antibiotics that day, that things would have been different for him,” said Stewart.

Josh Wakely and his family are seen in a provided image.

Now left to raise their son Mason alone, the 33-year-old mother has filed a civil lawsuit against the doctors who saw her husband at Fort St. John hospital and the Northern Health Authority. She is seeking unspecified financial damages.

“We lost our emotional support system. I lost my best friend, Mason lost his dad, but we also did lose a huge income earner,” said Stewart. “Josh was the sole provider in our family, he was the one who was working. My earning power will never be the same as Josh’s.”

Her lawyer, Keri Grenier, says she’s confident her client has strong case for negligence.

“The allegation is, had they done the steps they should have done out of the gate and over the course of those three visits, that Josh would be here today.”

The lawsuit claims Wakely’s death was either caused or contributed to by the negligence of the doctors and the Northern Health Authority.

Their negligence also led to Stewart’s “psychological injury/nervous shock,” the notice of civil claim says.

“All of the injuries have caused and continue to cause (Stewart) pain, suffering, discomfort, loss of enjoyment of life, temporary and permanent physical disability, and loss of earnings, both past and prospective, and loss of housekeeping capacity.”

Citing the Family Compensation Act, the suit goes on to say Wakely’s death caused Stewart and their son a loss of love, guidance, affection and companionship, as well as loss of shared income and inheritance, among other things.

His parents have suffered similar losses, the notice of civil claim says.

The family is suing for general and special damages, past and future health-care costs and other compensation of an undisclosed amount.

In a statement the health authority named in the suit said, “At this time, Northern Health has not been served regarding this statement of claim. NH cannot comment further, as the litigation process is underway.”

The notice of civil claim is dated Feb. 22.

As the case winds its way through the courts, Stewart says she remains focused on her and Wakely’s young son, who’s now four years old.

“I work really hard and my family and Josh’s family work really hard to keep the memory alive for Mason.”

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