‘Pretty scary’: Ill Ontario man stranded in Costa Rica finally recovering in Canada

The daughter of an Ontario man, who faced a medical emergency and was stranded in Costa Rica due to a shortage of available hospital beds back home, is relieved that he’s now recovering in Canada.

Emma Rice and her father Grant are finally both back in Ontario after the 69-year-old was put on a ventilator earlier this month — an experience that she describes as “pretty scary” for both of them.

She previously told Global News that while her father was on vacation in Costa Rica, he started to develop numbness in his tongue, which quickly spread throughout his face, leading to difficulty swallowing and eventually compromising his ability to breathe effectively.

She said flew out to Costa Rica on April 9th after learning her father was ill. Following her arrival, Grant was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, sometimes known as GBS, which is a rare but serious autoimmune disorder.

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“It basically causes nerve paralysis. Quite often it starts in the limbs, but with him, it started in his head,” Emma said.

After spending the next few weeks in a San Jose hospital room, Grant was finally stable enough to return to Ontario on a medical evacuation flight. However, insurance or a flight weren’t the issue, but finding an available hospital bed in Ontario was.

Photo provided by the family

Martin Firestone, a travel insurance broker in Toronto and president of Travel Secure Inc., explained to Global News that if someone falls ill while on vacation and the doctors in this location advise returning to their home province quickly, there are options for air evacuation. However, the key is that they must have a bed available in a local hospital.

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“The bottom line is it’s very difficult to get beds this day and age. But the air evacuation will not just bring you to the airport and leave you…there has to be a hospital to take you to,” said Firestone.

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Will McAleer, the executive director of the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada, explained hospitals do not permit air ambulances to arrive unannounced without a prearranged bed.

Insurance companies are saying the situation should be improved, with McAleer adding that hospitals should treat travelling Ontarians the same as if they were to get sick while at home.

Fortunately, following the news of Grant’s situation, multiple hospitals extended offers for assistance. Meanwhile, Emma said her father’s insurance company contacted her regarding an available bed in Ottawa. Shortly thereafter, a medical evacuation flight was on its way.

“When those air ambulance folks walked into the hospital room and gave me a hug, it was probably the most relieving moment of my life,” Emma said.

Her father is now recovering at Ottawa Civic Hospital, facing a long road to recovery ahead. However, having him back home is all that matters.

Unfortunately, Grant’s case isn’t unique in Canada — Canadians travelling can face stressful, lengthy waits to access hospitals back home.

As a reminder, Firestone says to always remember to get sufficient travel insurance.

“Travel insurance is so important…your Ontario government health insurance plan covers you for very little on any potential claim you may have,” said Firestone.

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“If you go away and suffer an emergency, whether it be something from a sickness right to triple bypass surgery, that cost in most countries is exorbitant, so you could be looking at a half-a-million-dollar bill,” he said.

“And quite frankly, if you don’t have insurance, you are going to be responsible to pay it.”

— with files from Sean O’Shea. 

Click to play video: 'Canadian stranded in Costa Rica not 1st time families see red tape bringing sick loved ones home'

Canadian stranded in Costa Rica not 1st time families see red tape bringing sick loved ones home

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