McPherson man loses life after waiting days for an ICU bed

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By Jessie Wagoner

 

McPHERSON—Rob Van Pelt, 44, of McPherson passed away Sunday evening following a series of unfortunate medical events. Van Pelt’s family and friends are now left with memories of the man they described as a “goofball” while they grapple with trying to understand how things went so terribly wrong. 

Van Pelt, a lifelong McPherson resident, went to McPherson Hospital on Tuesday morning for a routine ENT procedure. In fact, the procedure was so routine it is typically performed in the doctor’s office. However, insurance would only pay if the procedure was performed at the hospital. During the procedure, Van Pelt’s heart stopped. 

“After CPR and shocking him several times, he came back,” Somer Van Pelt, Rob’s wife, said. 

The doctors at McPherson Hospital got Van Pelt stabilized and began trying to find an ICU bed for him in a hospital that could offer a higher level of care.

“We couldn’t find a hospital in Kansas because they were full,” Somer Van Pelt said. “They were reaching out of state when a bed opened in Wichita.”

The bed that opened in Wichita was at Wichita Heart Hospital. Van Pelt was life-flighted to the hospital at that time. Unfortunately, Van Pelt really needed an ICU with a neurologist available. He needed to be at a different hospital, but all the beds were full. 

“We are now waiting for a bed at a hospital that has a packed waiting room of people before us,” Somer Van Pelt said at the time. “My husband was a lucky one and received a vent so many have died waiting for.”

On Wednesday, as Van Pelt lay waiting for an ICU bed Sedgwick County hospitals moved to critical status. Chief Clinical Officer of Ascension Via Christ Dr. Sam Antonios said Wichita hospitals are “unseasonably full” and that there were 74 patients who require care for COVID-19. 

“We continue to admit and discharge patients all day, every day, along with caring for patients in our ERs. However, for every patient we move out of a hospital room or ICU bed, another patient is waiting to be moved in,” Dr. Antonios said in a statement to KAKE News.

Shortly after, Wesley Medical Center also issued a statement regarding the lack of beds available. A spokesperson for Wesley issued the following statement. 

“Wesley continues to do its best to manage the ever-growing number of patients seeking care,” the statement read. “However, given the growing number of COVID-19 cases being reported, combined with ongoing staffing challenges related to the nationwide nursing shortage, we continue to be concerned that, if patient numbers continue to grow, local healthcare providers could face major challenges in serving our community. We encourage everyone to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to help us better manage cases in Wichita and throughout Kansas.”

By Wednesday night, Van Pelt’s condition had not improved, and he still desperately needed a bed. The family and staff at Wichita Heart Hospital were hopeful a bed would open up at Via Christi-St. Francis Regional Medical Center on the neurology floor. 

“We are still waiting for a bed to open up at St. Francis where the neuro specialists are,” Somer Van Pelt said. “Unfortunately, they had to resort to making half the neuro floor into a makeshift COVID unit. So we don’t know how long that will be.”

While waiting for a bed in Wichita, the hospital began reaching out to other hospitals outside of Kansas. Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado and even New Mexico were over capacity and trying to transfer their own patients in need to Wichita.

Thursday arrived with Van Pelt still hospitalized in the wrong hospital for his needs. He was scheduled to get an EEG to assess brain activity, but due to staff and equipment shortages, the procedure could not be completed. The doctors continued to look for another hospital to take Van Pelt. Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, Somer Van Pelt said they would go anywhere, but there was no where to go. No beds were available. They were full of patients battling COVID-19.”

“They said they would never know if it would have made a difference,” Somer Van Pelt said. “Bottom line is he should have been in neuro care. Every hospital did an amazing job. They were just as frustrated as we were and tried so hard. They called 20 states, four times a day. The machine we needed for an EEG was available at another hospital nearby, but due to staff shortages, they couldn’t bring it.” 

Late Friday night, a bed opened up at St. Francis, and Van Pelt was transferred. But by the time he finally received neurological care, it was too late. Tests on Saturday morning revealed Van Pelt no longer had brain activity. 

“There is no brain activity or waves,” Somer Van Pelt said at the time. “The entire brain is swollen from lack of oxygen. His pupils are not responsive and what they call “doll eyes.” The vent is now breathing for him.” 

Van Pelt previously expressed his desire to be an organ donor. Sunday, his family honored his wishes. 

“Rob passed peacefully at 6:44 p.m.,” Somer Van Pelt said Sunday evening. “He was surrounded by friends and family, listening to our favorite songs. At the moment, he is being a donor hero.” 

Somer Van Pelt received an update Monday evening from the donor coordinator. Part of Van Pelt now lives on in two recipients of his kidneys. His left kidney was given to a 58-year-old man, and his right kidney saved the life of a 39-year-old woman. 

Van Pelt’s family and friends are now back in McPherson, attempting to understand how things went so tragically wrong. They are also trying to focus on the fun memories they have of their time with Van Pelt and celebrate the life he lived. 

“He loved music; he played in a band in high school and college,” Nadia Turley, Van Pelt’s step daughter said. “He was the kind of person that could make anybody laugh. He loved to play video games and was a goofball.” 

“He is remembered as an artist, teammate, friend and father,” Somer Van Pelt said. “He loved his family more than anything.” 

Van Pelt is survived by his wife, Somer, of the home; children, Dylan Van Pelt of Freeman, S.D., Sierra Van Pelt of Oskaloosa, Kan., Alexia Van Pelt of McPherson, Kan, Nadia Turley (Madison Servaes) of McPherson, Kan., and Vailyn Turley of McPherson, Kan.; mother, Carla Van Pelt of McPherson, Kan.; sisters, Tiffani Van Pelt of McPherson, Kan., and Nyssa Van Pelt of McPherson, Kan.; and one grandson. 

Due to the unexpected nature of Van Pelt’s illness and death, funds are being raised to help with medical and funeral expenses. Memorial donations may be given for final expenses and made payable to Somer Van Pelt in care of Stockham Family Funeral Home, 205 North Chestnut, McPherson, KS, 67460. Donations can also be made online at https://gofund.me/1d3fd2d4. 

A celebration of Van Pelt’s life will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 28, at the McPherson Community Building. Masks are required to attend the service.