Winnipeg woman with COVID-19 who died in Ontario hospital was a leader and mentor in business

James Bullard knew in his gut his sister Kim wouldn’t survive COVID-19, even though he had been told by health-care professionals in London, Ontario, she was slowly improving.

Bullard spoke to Kim for the last time the day before she died on June 1. He was told by health care staff Kim had improved to the point her breathing tube was taken out. She was able to speak with her granddaughter and her son, Dale, by video chat.

James spoke to her over the phone. The moment he heard her voice, he said, he knew she wouldn’t make it.

“It was her tone. She just didn’t have that same upbeat energy in her voice. She had a hard time forming the words. I knew she wasn’t coming home,” whispered James, taking a deep breath as he cried softly. 

“But I still told her I would be there for her when she got home. She told me she loved me. At that point I couldn’t get the words out. I said bye, and that was it. That was the last time I spoke to her,” James said while sobbing. 

Fifty-seven-year-old Kim Bullard took a turn for the worse within hours, according to her family. She was one of thirty-six patients transferred out of Manitoba’s overflowing ICUs. 

Kim was working from home the last week of May, preparing for a Vision Quest online conference to be held in October. The organization promotes Indigenous business and economic development, and Kim had been chair of the board for years, fuelling her decades-long passion to improve communities and business development for First Nations people.

Until March of this year, she was the general manager of Dakota Ojibway Community Futures Development Corporation. In a written statement, her co-workers describe her as a good boss, a strategic thinker, a gifted visionary. As a person, they say she will be remembered for her sincerity, honesty and loyalty, her genuine laugh and warm personality. 

Transferred within a day of hospital admission

When Kim got sick on May 26, she was also helping her granddaughter — a child she cherished and adored — with remote learning, and her son Dale was studying at home to become a dentist.

Three days later, Kim was taken by ambulance to St. Boniface Hospital. Within a day, she was transferred to London. Kim’s family said she had received one dose of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine. 

Tannis Bullard, Kim’s sister, said not everyone who winds up in a hospital with COVID-19 is unvaccinated, in response to comments from Premier Brian Pallister. 

Tannis wonders why the province allowed ICUs to become plugged when they knew a surge was heading for Manitoba weeks earlier based on what was happening in other provinces.

“I think it’s ridiculous. But having said that, if you are going to send someone away, COVID is probably the time to do it because either way, whether they are here or in another province, we aren’t allowed to see our loved one,” said Tannis.

That’s something that haunts James.

“I just wanted to be with her. Jump on a plane. Be with her. But it wouldn’t have made a difference in the end because I wouldn’t be able to see her,” said James. 

Tannis wasn’t as fortunate to talk to Kim before she died. Both siblings don’t believe having Kim transferred to another province would have changed the outcome.  

“It was very shocking to me. There are a lot of things I could be upset about right now. But that won’t change anything,” said Tannis. 

‘She helped her people her whole life’

Tannis describes her sister as smart, assertive, someone who knew how to make things happen, and someone who loved and supported family, despite their differences. Tannis says Kim helped her start up her own business, Mother Earth Tobacco, selling certified organic tobacco for ceremonies more than a decade ago.  

For James, it’s Kim’s smile and big heart that he will miss the most, along with her willingness to always make someone’s life better.

“She was a great person who was loved by a lot of people. She helped a lot of people  She is a strong woman. A Dakota woman. She helped her people her whole life get ahead and that’s why the world is a better place today for us, for our people,” said James. 

The family is expecting Kim’s body to arrive home Tuesday, June 8. She will be buried on a hill at Sioux Valley First Nation with her mother.

Kim would have turned 58 on the last day of this month.