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Baby in Sanirajak, Nunavut, dies after mom’s call to health centre gets transferred to Iqaluit

A family in Sanirajak, Nunavut, is grieving the loss of their one-month-old who died after delays in getting medical care.

Mother Rita Javagiaq gave birth to twin boys on Jan. 26, and returned home with her babies a few weeks later. Jamie Akearok, the twins’ father, said they called the health centre in Sanirajak between 10 p..m. and midnight on Feb. 23 after one of the twins started having trouble breathing.

He said their call was transferred to Iqaluit and they were told the local health centre would call them back.

They waited all night, but that call never came.

He said they called the local health centre when it opened at 9 a.m. the next morning and were again told to wait. Akearok said his wife ignored this advice and took the baby to the health centre. When she arrived, staff performed CPR, but Akearok said it was too late to save the baby’s life.

Josiah Jeremy Jamiesie Akearok died the morning of Feb. 24.

Mother in pink holding newborn.
Mother Rita Javagiaq holds baby Josiah. (Submitted by Jamie Akearok)

Josiah’s twin brother, who began having similar problems breathing, has since been medevaced to Winnipeg

Akearok said he wants an investigation into the health staff who were supposed to help them.

“We asked for help. We asked for it,” he said.

He said it hurt even more when they took his baby’s body away before he could spend time with him.

“They [took] away the little time I had with him,” he said.

Nunavut’s coroner is investigating the death.

Smiling dad, baby under a blanket.
Jamie Akearok poses with one of his young twins. (Submitted by Jamie Akearok)

Akearok said his partner is in Winnipeg with their second baby, but he has six other children at home and can’t leave them to go support her.

He said she needs help and support from the health department.

Health department responds

Health Minister John Main told CBC his department is working to investigate the circumstances around the death. 

He said calls to health centres sometimes get transferred to another community if health staff need time off.

Frowning man in glasses, seated.
Nunavut Health Minister John Main. (David Gunn/CBC)

“It’s a protocol that’s put in place — I don’t believe it’s all the time, but it’s in times when there are staff shortages or when there’s a need for respite time for staff to rest up between calls,” he said.

Main said he couldn’t speak to why it would take all night for the health centre to call the family back.

“That type of detailed information would be exactly what our internal review would be looking into,” he said.

Metal-clad building with elaborate stairs.
The health centre in Sanirajak, Nunavut, in March 2022. (Jackie McKay/CBC)

He said his department is looking at what supports it can provide to Sanirajak, adding there have been some local meetings with his staff and community leaders to talk about how to “work together and heal after this.”

“All options are on the table to help them out,” Main said.

He said he and his staff offer their “heartfelt condolences” to the family and community.

“We understand how difficult it is to lose a loved one, and [we want] to assure them that we are taking this matter very seriously,” he said.

“Our thoughts are with them and we’re looking for ways to support them.”

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