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MacNabb Family’s Gratitude Launches New Aberdeen Health Foundation Program

From left: Intensive Care Unit (ICU) RN, Melanie Hill, Louise MacNabb, Bert MacNabb and ICU RN, Ashley MacNaughton.

Upon entering the home of Bert and Louise MacNabb, the first thing you might notice is a tall vase or umbrella stand. Rather than umbrellas or ornamental grass though, this one is full of arrows from Papua New Guinea. As you look around, you realize the place is like a museum, filled with art and artifacts gathered from the MacNabb’s travels and Bert’s life as a geologist working abroad. 

Bert is a retired, adventurous and well-travelled man. He also has diabetes and suffers from sensory diabetic neuropathy, a condition that can affect 40-50% of people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. This means he can’t feel heat, cold or pain in his feet. One morning in 2018, noticing that a couple of Bert’s toes were turning black, the MacNabbs headed to the Aberdeen Hospital emergency department. From that day they embarked on an entirely different kind of journey. 

Within hours he was diagnosed with a major, potentially life threatening infection and by evening he was undergoing emergency surgery. After six weeks, two surgeries, and having spent a record amount of time at the Aberdeen intensive care unit, Bert slowly began to emerge from a state of delirium. 

But Bert doesn’t remember any of this. 

The last thing he remembers is looking down at his toes before the first surgery. Louise, on the other hand, lived every minute of it. She experienced the sudden and unimaginable turn of events on a day that had begun just like any other. She lived with the distressing uncertainty, the roller coaster of his delirium; and at one point, it was Louise who had to make the decision on a second emergency surgery that would result in amputation of one of his legs below the knee. Surgery which Bert had only a 40% chance of surviving. 

The MacNabb’s daughter Cindy came from Ontario for a few days and stayed three weeks. Cindy gave Louise much needed inner strength and played a key role in communicating with Bert’s team at the Aberdeen Hospital.  “Staff were amazing,” recalls Cindy. “While doing everything they could for Dad, they were also always focused on Mom’s wellbeing. I remember late one night, Mom was giving up hope as she prepared to go home. The nurse insisted that she not leave until speaking with a doctor who would reassure her. The care all seemed so incredibly personal. We will always be grateful for that.”

Louise, Bert and Cindy MacNabb. Summer 2019.

After spending six weeks at the Aberdeen Hospital, Bert spent two more in the restorative care unit at Sutherland Harris Memorial Hospital and then a month at Nova Scotia Rehabilitation Centre in Halifax. At each station along the way, the kindness and compassion of staff is something the MacNabbs will always remember.  They were not really interested in sharing the story of their ordeal. But they did want to tell of the exceptional care they received. 

“The wonderful people in stories like ours are so often overlooked.” says Louise. “These are the people at the heart of our health care system, the doctors and nurses who never let us give up hope. In the darkest, most frightening moments, someone always seemed to be there, saying the right thing and doing their best to provide calm.”  

Bert and Louise MacNabb are the first to donate to the Aberdeen Health Foundation’s Gratitude Program. The program makes it easy for patients and their families to recognize staff who have gone the extra mile with a tribute gift that can be directed to a particular department or area of care. For the MacNabbs, the Gratitude Program felt like a meaningful way of saying thanks.

To know where Bert was and to see him today, firmly on his feet and getting his life back to normal, is a testament to everyone who was by his side during those months of uncertainty. Bert is an exceptional man and his recovery reflects this in many ways, but as far as the MacNabbs are concerned much of the credit goes to those who provided skilled and compassionate care through every mile of the journey.