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Health (18-24)

Spouse seeking answers after young N.W.T. mother, prescribed Advil, dies of double pneumonia

February 29, 2024

Rachel Simpson was sent home from Whatı̀ health centre despite worsening condition

A family of 3 stands in front of a fireplace with a Christmas tree nearby.
Ben Wedzin, left, and Rachel Simpson with their five-month-old son, Jax. Simpson died Tuesday after struggling for days with double pneumonia that went untreated by the local health centre. (Submitted by Ben Wedzin)

CBC News: The partner of a young mother from Whatı̀, N.W.T., who died this week wants to know why the community health centre didn’t take her seriously for days before she was medevaced to Alberta.

Rachel Simpson was the glue that held their family together, said her common-law partner Ben Wedzin — she was soft-spoken and kind, and beloved in Whatı̀, a community of about 550 people roughly 164 kilometres northwest of Yellowknife.

She also loved taking care of the couple’s five-month-old son, Jax. 

Simpson died Tuesday in an Alberta hospital after contracting double pneumonia that went untreated despite multiple attempts to get help from the Whatı̀ health centre. 

Sent home with Advil and sleeping pills

Wedzin said Simpson started complaining of chest pains last Friday afternoon.

“I called the health centre and right over the phone, they said she’s probably just having a panic attack,” he recalled.

The nurse told her to relax and calm down, he said, which she tried to do. But her symptoms got worse as the night went on: she couldn’t sleep, her back started hurting and she started having trouble breathing.

Wedzin said Simpson’s mother took her to the health centre at around 3 a.m. that night. The nurse there checked her breathing, gave her Advil and other pills to help her sleep, and sent her home.

“They didn’t check her blood pressure, they didn’t check her temperature, nothing like that. And they just told her to go [home],” said Wedzin.

Simpson took those pills all Saturday, but her symptoms kept getting worse.

“She was declining,” Wedzin said. 

Early Sunday morning, her mother took her back to the health centre, where they increased her dosage of pain and sleeping medication.

By Sunday afternoon, Simpson couldn’t get out of bed.

“She couldn’t get up, she couldn’t breathe,” Wedzin said. “She was crying and she could barely talk — the ambulance had to come to get her.”

Intubated on arrival

When the ambulance arrived, the severity of Simpson’s condition became apparent.

Wedzin said the situation took a drastic turn when ambulance attendants tried to intubate her without sedating or relaxing her first — a process that involves putting a breathing tube down the patient’s throat.

“She was crying, she cried five times,” he said. “Until they finally got the hose in her.”

A smiling woman with a small baby.
Rachel Simpson doted on her five-month old son, Jax, according to her spouse. (Submitted by Ben Wedzin)

The last thing she said to him was, “I’m going to see you later, OK?”

That was the last time Wedzin saw Simpson alive. 

Simpson was medevaced to Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife, with the family driving in from Whatı̀ to be with her. There, Wedzin said, health staff found she didn’t have any oxygen in her blood.

“She was basically suffocating for three days at home,” he said.

When he and her family arrived in Yellowknife, they found out she’d been medevaced on to Edmonton because of how severe her condition was.

Wedzin flew to Edmonton, but by the time they arrived, they were informed Simpson had severe brain damage and was on life support. 

The family then made the painful decision to remove her from life support.

“There were so many things wrong with her within the span of two days. It was crazy. I never seen so many tubes hooked up to a person,” Wedzin said.

“Everything she is, is gone — her personality, her smile, everything is gone. Her laugh.”

‘They neglected her for three days’

This isn’t the first time health centres in the N.W.T. have sent someone home with Advil or Tylenol when they are facing a serious health emergency. In 2022, Délı̨nę elder Morris Neyelle had to undergo emergency surgery to remove a tumour, despite being sent home multiple times from his local health centre with Tylenol. He died a month later.

Later that same year, a two-year-old in Hay River with double pneumonia was sent home multiple times with Tylenol.

Similar stories have emerged for years from other communities.

Now, Wedzin is trying to come to terms with their five-month-old son growing up without his mother, who Wedzin said she doted on.

He wants to know why it took so long for her to be taken seriously.

“All of this could have been avoided on Friday, if they just diagnosed her. They neglected her for three days,” he said. “She was taking the wrong medication for three days.”

Whatì Chief Alfonz Nitsiza said he watched Simpson grow up in the community and her death affects everyone.

He also wants to know what went wrong and why the family was ignored when trying to get her help.

“Her boyfriend tried to get her to the health centre,” he said. “Somehow, she wasn’t looked after until it was too late.”

Review underway

This also isn’t the first time Nitsiza has heard complaints regarding the health services in the community.

He said he contacted someone at the health authority regarding this recent incident and was told the family needs to file a formal complaint so the incident can be investigated.

“I’ll be talking to them when they come back,” Nitsiza said, and plans to offer his help with that process.

The Whatı̀ health centre is managed by the Tłı̨chǫ Community Services Agency (TCSA).

“TCSA is committed to providing quality care and is reviewing what happened to understand the situation, address concerns raised and — if found — address any gaps or errors in care,” said Andrew Wind, a spokesperson for the N.W.T. Department of Health and Social Services, speaking on behalf of the TCSA.

“As part of the review, it will be determined if an outside investigation is required.”

He said they couldn’t comment on the specific case for several reasons, including protecting patient information. He said they couldn’t answer questions about staffing levels and the type of health care workers involved because of legal constraints.

Wedzin believes Simpson would be here today if she had been taken seriously.

“I believe that if she was diagnosed correctly in Whatì, it could have been prevented and she would still be here,” Wedzin said. 

“Her death has a big effect on everyone. Everybody loved her.”


Carla Ulrich, Video journalist

Carla Ulrich is a video journalist with CBC North in Fort Smith, N.W.T. Reach her at