In Sambaa K’e, a knife slip leads to a days-long medical ordeal


A Sambaa K’e Elder endured a week-long ordeal after accidentally piercing his abdomen with a knife while skinning a moose.

Victor Jumbo, 75, was in a cabin butchering a moose head on Sunday, October 9, when his knife slipped and ended up in his stomach. He removed the knife, got in his boat and made the 45-minute trip back to Sambaa K’e.

Sambaa K’e, in the Northwest Territories’ Dehcho region, has fewer than 100 residents and is accessible only by air for most of the year.

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The tiny community’s health centre arranged for a medevac that would take Jumbo by air to the larger village of Fort Simpson.

There would only be one space on the small plane available for the trip, an arrangement Jumbo found stressful.

“My dad is 75 years old and he’s not fluent in English. He speaks Dene Zhatie,” said his daughter, Valerie Lamalice. “He’s not used to travelling on his own. He needs an escort.”

However, things got worse.

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First, the family said, the medevac flight was pushed back from Sunday afternoon to Monday morning. Then a different plane was found, coming from territorial capital Yellowknife, and the medevac was brought back forward to Sunday.

As that plane came in to land, the lights illuminating Sambaa K’e’s airstrip failed.

The plane circled as people on the ground in Sambaa K’e frantically tried to fix the lights but, after three attempts aborted because of flickering lights, the aircraft abandoned its trip.

“At that point, all we could do was take directions from the health centre in Fort Simpson,” said Lamalice. “They told us to keep an eye out on my dad all night.”

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With a makeshift bandage prepared by wife Margaret, Jumbo tried to rest with his son and wife keeping watch over him and checking his vital signs every three hours. The next day, he was flown to Fort Simpson, where healthcare workers decided he should be flown to Yellowknife. When he got to Yellowknife on Tuesday, he waited in the emergency room for three hours to be seen.

Doctors who assessed Jumbo sent him back to his temporary accommodation at a boarding house in Yellowknife for people on medical travel, his family said. Two days later, he was brought back for a CT scan, waiting six hours for the procedure before again being released.

“Today is day six,” said Lamalice on Friday. “He’s been given no painkillers, nothing.”

Later that evening, Jumbo finally received the results of the scan: the knife had narrowly missed his organs. As long as the wound healed properly, the danger was over.

But hours waiting in a Yellowknife emergency room with a two-inch stab wound left him feeling like he didn’t matter. “He didn’t like the way that he was treated,” said Lamalice. “He felt like he was being discriminated against for being Indigenous.

“It was like there was no emergency, no urgency. Like they didn’t want to bother handling him. To imagine my dad going through that… and at 75 years old… it makes me really sad.”

David Maguire, a spokesperson for the NWT’s health authority, said he was unable to comment on the situation in detail.

“While we cannot speak to any specific cases or individual instances of care, due to a requirement to protect the privacy of patients and clients, we can confirm that medevac services were temporarily impacted by runway lights in Sambaa K’e recently,” Maguire said by email.

Jumbo’s family say they are left without much faith in the NWT’s medical system. A year ago, Lamalice’s daughter, Etoah, reportedly waited three weeks for treatment of a broken arm.

“It hurt the whole family,” said Lamalice. But this is happening all over the Northwest Territories. We’re just hoping that there’s a change and that they start taking our health seriously.”