May 8, 2018

From tragedy to action: Greg Price's health-care journey now a teaching tool for UCalgary med students

Premiere of Falling Through the Cracks: Greg’s Story to be co-hosted May 17 by O’Brien Institute for Public Health
Kevin McGarry of Heartland as Greg Price in Falling Through The Cracks: Greg's Story, which chronicles the final weeks of Greg’s life and is now being used as a tool to teach UCalgary medical students.

Kevin McGarry of Heartland as Greg Price in Falling Through The Cracks: Greg's Story.

Greg's Wings

His pursuit of treatment might have been in vain. His death will not be.

That’s the message from the family of Greg Price, whose tragic and well-documented journey through the health-care system is now the inspiration for a film that will be used as a training tool by the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine (CSM).

Falling Through The Cracks, Greg’s Story chronicles the final weeks of Greg’s life — a brief, heart-wrenching descent through medical appointments, and breakdowns in the continuity of his care, that ended with his death on May 19, 2012.

“Before Greg’s journey, we kind of assumed that while a health system has warts, it would be there for you when you really need it,” says Greg’s father, Dave Price. “I think that’s a universal assumption, and that can be dangerous, and even fatal.”

Greg died from a blood clot three days after surgery to remove a cancerous testicle. It was the culmination of a series of delays and breakdowns in obtaining timely testing, follow-up appointments and specialist visits, all detailed by the Health Quality Council of Alberta in a 2013 report that made 13 recommendations for change.

Greg Price was 31 when he died, just three days after surgery to remove a cancerous testicle. It was the culmination of a series of delays and breakdowns in the continuity of his care as detailed by the Health Quality Council of Alberta in 2013.

Greg Price was 31 when he died, just three days after surgery to remove a cancerous testicle.

Price family

Film's origins in clinical setting

Dr. Ward Flemons, respirologist, professor in the Department of Medicine, and member of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health, co-authored that report, and was already using Greg’s story as a teaching tool when the idea of a film came up during discussions around how best to teach teamwork in clinical settings.

Flemons met with Canadian TV writer Andrew Wreggitt and his wife, Becky, and introduced them to the Price family. Wreggitt then introduced the Price family to Heartland director Dean Bennett, and the vision for Falling Through The Cracks, Greg’s Story was born.

Wreggitt, whose body of work includes HeartlandFlashpoint and North of 60, wrote the script. Bennett directed it. It was shot in just five days over the summer on location at the Price family farm and at the CSM, with support from W21C at the O’Brien Institute and a number of CSM faculty and staff. Kevin McGarry of Heartland plays Greg Price.

"This family has really taken the high road in wanting to do something beautiful from a tragedy, and I feel even to this moment they’re honouring Greg in the best way possible, and I was thrilled to be a part of it,” says Bennett, who directed the film over his holiday.

“I don’t regret for one moment having missed a holiday. This was a holiday of the heart.”

Leah Sarich of Breakfast Television will moderate the panel discussion that will include André Picard of the Globe and Mail, right, at the May 17 premiere of Falling Through The Cracks: Greg's Story, at the Plaza Theatre.

Leah Sarich will moderate the panel that will include André Picard, right, at the premiere.

Opportunity to reach an even broader audience

Flemons says the real goal of the film had always been to teach students about teamwork, “but when we saw the quality of people on board, we all realized there was more potential here than just teaching medical students — this could engage the public, decision-makers.”

The Price family knew it, too. Through their not-for-profit organization established in his honour, Greg’s Wings, the family is using the film as a springboard to carry the conversation further.

On May 17, Greg’s Wings and the O’Brien Institute will co-host the Calgary premiere of the film at the Plaza Theatre, and will include two panel discussions moderated by Breakfast Television’s Leah Sarich.

Flemons, Wreggitt and Dave Price will be joined by André Picard, health columnist with the Globe and Mail, Annamarie Fuchs, health-care consultant and patient advocate, Scott McLeod, registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta, and Dr. William Ghali, scientific director of the O’Brien Institute.

“This is not just a movie, like any other movie,” says Ghali. “Greg’s Wings and the Price family want to use this as a vehicle for education and for promoting positive change in health systems everywhere.”

The premiere will coincide with the launch of an online community called the Co-Pilot Collective, a community where individuals can share information, experiences and ideas. The aim is for members — “co-Pilots” — to become better advocates for their own health.

The Price family believes such a community of engaged members can be a powerful catalyst for change. “We don’t want anybody else to have the same experience we did, the gaps can be closed,” says Dave Price. “There’s no big impediment to that except the will to do it. The improvements we need to institute require a commitment to safety and teamwork. That requires a fundamental change in the culture and political priority to push it in that direction.”

A small group of med students viewed the film for the first time at the end of October, and their reactions spoke volumes. Sarah Smith, a third-year med student at the UCalgary, viewed the film before her first foray into a hospital setting. “The whole time I was watching the video I was thinking, ‘This could be me, this could be my patient,’” says Smith, who will join the panel at the premiere. “Because no one did anything malicious, but mistakes were obviously made.”

The film’s been nominated in seven categories at the Alberta Media Production Industries Association (AMPIA) Rosie Awards. The University of Toronto and other national and international organizations have expressed interest in viewing and potentially using the film in their own curricula.

To watch the trailer, click here.

Dr. Ward Flemons is the Quality and Safety Lead at W21C , a professor in the Department of Medicine and a member of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health at the Cumming School of Medicine. He is also a medical director with the Health Quality Council of Alberta