Healthy Living in the North

Fort St. John doctor brings new frostbite treatment to Northern BC

Dr. Wilkie and a woman stand beside each other outdoors. Dr. Wilkie holds a toddler.

Thanks to Dr. Wilkie (left), there should be less amputations due to frostbite this winter.

Few things can put an end to winter activities as fast as frostbite, but thanks to one Fort St. John doctor, Northern Health may soon have a better way of treating it.

Dr. Jamie Wilkie, a recent graduate of the UBC Family Medicine residency program, saw a need during his residency in Fort St. John to improve how we are dealing with frostbite.

“I previously lived and worked in Hay River [in the Northwest Territories], have dogsledded in the Yukon, and guided canoe trips in all three territories,” says Dr. Wilkie. “I have personally and professionally seen the impacts of frostbite and related exposure injuries.”

Frostbite treatment became the focus of Dr. Wilkie’s resident scholar project. He collaborated with Jessica Brecknock, Regional Medication Use Management Pharmacist, and Kendra Clary, Med Systems Pharmacy Technician, to create a prepackaged treatment plan (order set) for use of the drug iloprost in severe frostbite cases.

“The literature for the use of iloprost in severe frostbite shows a significant decrease in the need for amputations,” says Dr. Wilkie. “The goal of this project is to improve access to the best evidence-based treatments for severe frostbite in Northern BC.”

Northern Health approved this protocol, and it will be available for use this winter. Dr. Wilkie believes this is the first frostbite order set for iloprost in BC.

Dr. Wilkie moved to Fort St. John in June 2017 and is enjoying all the outdoor opportunities the area has to offer. He and his wife have been hiking around places such as Tumbler Ridge, Hudson Hope, and in Stone Mountain Provincial Park to name a few. They have canoed on the Peace River, and done lots of fishing.

“I knew that I loved the North and the access to fishing, hunting, hiking, and sledding,” says Dr. Wilkie. “I wanted to be in a small town and I wanted to practice full-scope family medicine. I looked at residencies all over the US and Canada, and only Fort St. John checked all those boxes.

“I also really like the people. They are hard working, generous, and generally very appreciative of having physicians in town.”

Mark Hendricks

About Mark Hendricks

Mark is the Communications Advisor, Medical Affairs at Northern Health. He was raised in Prince George, and has earned degrees from UNBC (International Business) and Thompson Rivers University (Journalism). As a fan of Fall and Winter, the North suits him and he’s happy to be home in Prince George. When he's not working, Mark enjoys spending time with his wife, reading, playing games of all sorts, hiking, and a good cup (or five) of coffee.

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Fort Nelson HIV Awareness Week: using language to break down barriers

A table of HIV Awareness materials is pictured.

The table of materials at Fort Nelson’s HIV Awareness Week helps educate attendees.

Language is a powerful thing. It connects to who we are and how we see ourselves. So, when someone takes the time to reach out in your own language — instead of expecting you to understand theirs — it makes a difference.

For the past five years, the community of Fort Nelson has held an HIV Awareness Week. For the most recent one, held the week of April 29, 2019, they decided to mark the occasion by doing something special for the Indigenous members of their community.

Working together with the Fort Nelson Aboriginal Friendship Society, they translated their yearly presentation on HIV into Dené, the most prominent Indigenous language in the area.

“We had one or two Elders who teared up,” said Jennifer Riggs, Regulated Pharmacy Technician and the key organizer for the event. “They were so happy that we took the time — I don’t think it mattered what the conversation was about — but they were so happy that we did it in their language. They really appreciated that we made an effort.”

Fort Nelson, located in Northeastern BC, has a large Indigenous population: roughly 14% of the population identify as Indigenous.

“This event is important in Northern BC, especially in our very isolated towns,” says Jennifer. “Indigenous people have a higher prevalence of HIV … and they aren’t getting that information. We’re trying to bring people up to date.”

This lack of information was the reason Jennifer and her team put in the time and effort to translate the presentation. She wants to ensure that they aren’t left out of the conversation. She hopes to do even more next year by translating the presentation into another Indigenous language.

HIV isn’t something that people usually get excited about, but for Fort Nelson, the event has become something to look forward to. Jennifer estimates that attendance has quadrupled since the initial event five years ago. She hopes that with continued outreach to the Indigenous communities in the area, attendance will continue to grow.

“So many people attend and we’ve come full circle, from where people weren’t talking about sex, to now having condom races at the fire department! It’s becoming normal conversation.”

For Jennifer, this is what it’s all about: to make conversations about topics such as HIV, sex, sexual orientation, and addiction less painful for people to talk about, and to make them part of everyday conversation.

“I want it to be a regular thing. I want continual education and training available all the time. It shouldn’t be a big deal.”

Mark Hendricks

About Mark Hendricks

Mark is the Communications Advisor, Medical Affairs at Northern Health. He was raised in Prince George, and has earned degrees from UNBC (International Business) and Thompson Rivers University (Journalism). As a fan of Fall and Winter, the North suits him and he’s happy to be home in Prince George. When he's not working, Mark enjoys spending time with his wife, reading, playing games of all sorts, hiking, and a good cup (or five) of coffee.

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I came for… I stayed because… with Ibolya Agoston

Ibolya is in the front of a canoe on a clam lake, surrounded by mountains.

Ibolya enjoying time off at the Bowron Lakes in the Cariboo.

I recently noticed a common theme in my conversations with many Northern Health staff members. They were planning on coming to the North for a short time, but they’ve stayed for a lot longer. Meet one such person: Ibolya Agoston, team leader, Mental Health and Addictions Specialized Services. Based in Fort St. John, Ibolya is from Romania and came to Northern Health in 2003.

I came for…

I came to Canada for an adventure, where I could forge my own career path. I was living in England at the time, and wanted to experience the adventure of living in a Northern, rural community.

I was told about Health Match BC as a resource to learn more about nursing in BC. Their staff guided me to available positions in Northern Health. Well before Google maps, I had no idea where Fort St. John was located. To help me decide where I wanted to live, I went to the local library, and looked through photo books imagining what life would be like in the North. Then, I called the Fort St. John Health Unit and the receptionist who answered the phone sold me on the community. If it wasn’t for her sales pitch, I might have gone to a different community.

Iboyla takes a selfie. Behind her is a small valley and lake.

Iboyla participating in the Emperor’s challenge in Tumbler Ridge.

I stayed because…

The people. Leadership in the Northeast encourages the growth and development. They invest in their staff and encourage you to achieve your career goals. I work with amazing staff, and I enjoy impacting their career development. I’m able to coach them and encourage their own career growth.

I love the lifestyle I have in Fort St. John. We are close to nature and it’s a relaxed atmosphere. People who come here tend to have a similar mindset. Outside of work, I can canoe, hike, or cross-country ski.

Our patients are my immediate community. We’re serving people that I’m sometimes acquainted with, and interactions carry more weight because you have a different impact than in a larger community. People can be intimidated by the North, but once you embrace it, you love it!

Tamara Reichert

About Tamara Reichert

Tamara is the communications advisor for the innovation and development commons at Northern Health where she works on a number of projects with the research, quality improvement, clinical simulation, and education teams. Born and raised in Prince George, Tamara grew up on a ranch where she rode horses, played with farm animals, built forts, and raided the family garden. She enjoys spending time travelling, hiking, cooking, reading, and cheering for her favourite sports teams.

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I came for… I stayed because… with Stella Ndunda

Stella and her mother are bundled up on top of a hill, overlooking other snowy hills and a body of water.

Stella (left) introducing her mom to the Fort St. John winters.

Recently, I’ve noticed a common theme in my conversations with Northern Health staff! Many staff members planned to come to the North for a short time, but have stayed for a lot longer. Meet one such person: Stella Ndunda, a primary care team lead based in Fort St. John. Stella is from Kenya and joined Northern Health in 2012.

I came for…

In 2003, I left Kenya and came to Canada to pursue my Master’s degree in Counselling Psychology. After completing my master’s, I worked casual positions for a year in Vancouver. I needed full-time hours, and at that time it was difficult to gain full-time employment in Vancouver. I was alerted to an opening at the Fort St. John office with the Ministry of Children and Family Development. It was a really good job where I gained lots of experience. In 2012, I started at Northern Health as a care process coach.

Stella in the mall. Beside her is a table with a sign that says "Zumba with Stella."

Stella promoting her Zumba classes at the local Fort St John shopping centre.

I stayed because…

I did not plan or anticipate that I would stay in Fort St. John for so long, and I’m often asked why I’ve stayed. I’ve gotten more involved with the community in Fort St. John than I ever did in Vancouver. I received lots of support and kindness from the community and I have built genuine friendships.

As an African woman, camping, swimming, hiking, or fishing are not typically things to do, but I had wonderful friends that I trusted to push me way beyond my comfort zone! Surprisingly, I’ve really enjoyed those activities. I like trying new things and, despite it being a small town, Fort St. John has lots of activities to offer. I’ve shared my love of music and dance through teaching Zumba. It’s been wonderful sharing a bit of myself with the community.

At Northern Health, I’ve had great leaders who’ve supported my career growth and development. The team at Fort St. John Community Services is wonderful and I’m excited for our future.

Tamara Reichert

About Tamara Reichert

Tamara is the communications advisor for the innovation and development commons at Northern Health where she works on a number of projects with the research, quality improvement, clinical simulation, and education teams. Born and raised in Prince George, Tamara grew up on a ranch where she rode horses, played with farm animals, built forts, and raided the family garden. She enjoys spending time travelling, hiking, cooking, reading, and cheering for her favourite sports teams.

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