Heart patient’s death on Greyhound bus leads to calls for more flights, better service in northern Manitoba

There are health concerns about patients from Northern Manitoba’s who make the long trip to Winnipeg for medical appointments and specialized health services.

CTV News has learned a man from Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, also known as Nelson House died on a Greyhound bus along Highway 6 on his way to see a doctor.

On Oct. 3, Abraham Donkey, 58, got on the bus in Thompson.

Greyhound said passengers alerted the driver Donkey was unresponsive and alerted local authorities.

The family said he died on board near Fairford and was taken by ambulance to Eriksdale.

Donkey’s death has left his family upset and angry.

“That this occurred, that he was alone on the bus. As far as we know there are people who did try to resuscitate him including the bus driver,” said niece Ramona Neckoway in FaceTime Video interview with CTV News. 

Donkey’s family said he recently had stents put in his heart. They say he was called by the doctor for a follow up appointment at St. Boniface Hospital, but wasn’t offered a flight to get there.

About a week before donkey’s trip, niece Ramona Neckoway said she told health care workers at Thompson General Hospital Donkey should not be alone, that his first language was not English and had a hard time hearing.

“A flight should have been the first choice. You don’t send a heart patient on a 10 hour bus ride,” said Neckoway.

“He had asked for an escort which was subsequently denied. He got on bus and he never made it,” she said. 

“We wish to express condolences to the Donkey family and the community of Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation. We are looking into the specifics of this case to determine how service delivery could be improved,” said a spokesperson for Indigenous Services Canada, the federal department responsible in an email to CTV News.

Flights are approved based on recommendations from nurses or doctors, the spokesperson said.

Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation Chief Marcel Moody said cancer patients and other First Nations people are being forced to take long bus rides for medical help.

“There’s incidents like this happening on a weekly basis,” he said in an interview with CTV News.

He said more flights south and better health services in the north should be available.

“If we can avoid another death in a similar circumstance I think we have to try our best to help our people as best we can,” Moody said.

In the meantime, Donkey’s family continues to search for answers.

“He was the most gentle and humble human being,” said his niece Neckoway.

“We don’t even know who is saying no in the first place, making those decisions,” she said.

Indigenous Services Canada said based on the most cost effective mode of travel the bus is the normal mode of transportation, taking the client’s medical condition into consideration.

It said it’s contributing 42 million dollars over three years to support health services in Manitoba’s north, which includes local access to physicians and specialists.

Health Minister Cameron Friesen issued a statement to CTV News saying: 

“We express our condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Donkey on their loss. We are reviewing specifics of his case.”