Josh Wakely died of flesh-eating disease. Doctors misdiagnosed his condition 3 times, his widow claims

A widow living in Lake Country, B.C., has filed a lawsuit claiming her husband’s strep infection was misdiagnosed three times in the emergency room before he died of necrotizing fasciitis — also known as flesh-eating disease — nearly two years ago.

Britney Stewart, 33, claims none of the physicians who saw her husband during three separate visits to Fort St. John Hospital ordered tests that could’ve diagnosed the infection in February 2020. 

Josh Wakely died within days at the age of 40. He left behind Stewart and their then-two-year-old son. 

“It’s been definitely the most difficult two years of our lives,” Stewart said, speaking in an interview from her home in Lake Country. “[And] the one person that is going to make it all better is the one that is gone.”

None of Stewart’s claims has been proven. Neither the physicians nor Northern Health have filed a response in court.

3 trips to ER

Wakely was in the Fort St. John area for work before his death.

Stewart’s claim said her husband first visited the ER for “a severe sore throat” before midnight on Feb. 24, 2020. Doctors didn’t swab Wakely’s throat or run a rapid test for strep, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in B.C. Supreme Court.

They treated Wakely with Tylenol and fluids for suspected tonsillitis, then sent him home. 

The documents said paramedics took Wakely back to hospital with back spasms on Feb. 26.

“He had taken numerous medications that day, including 12 tablets of Robaxacet, seven tablets of Advil, seven tablets of Motrin, and one tablet of Tylenol with codeine but still rated his pain as 10/10,” the claim read.

Fort St. John Hospital is pictured in an undated photo. (Facebook/Fort St. John Hospital Foundation)

Wakely was sent home again a few hours later with Tylenol 3s and a diagnosis of muscle spasms and sacroiliitis.

He was back in the ER for the third day in a row on Feb. 27.

He had “pain, swelling and loss of sensation” radiating up his arm from his right hand and wrist, according to the claim. He was diagnosed with hand-arm vibration syndrome — due to his work as a welder — and sent home with advice to take Advil and avoid using vibration tools.

Physicians who saw Wakely during his second and third visits are accused of failing to order lab tests or call for bloodwork. Stewart claimed they didn’t reference his previous visits either.

After Wakely was discharged a third time, Stewart made the 2,000-kilometre round trip to bring him home to the Okanagan. 

Reached Thursday, a spokesperson for Northern Health said the authority couldn’t comment.

“At this time, Northern Health has not been served regarding this statement of claim. NH cannot comment further, as the litigation process is underway,” it said in an email.

Couple met 6 years earlier

Stewart first met Wakely on a worksite in the area around Buckinghorse, B.C., in 2014. She was the welder’s helper assigned to Wakely’s job and wasn’t initially looking for a relationship.

“It definitely started as a friendship, but he told me later, ‘The second I saw you … I knew that I was going to marry you.'”

The couple bought a home together in Lake Country in 2016. They welcomed their son, Mason, the following year. 

Josh Wakely and Britney Stewart during a maternity photoshoot before the birth of their son in 2017. (Memories by Michelle (Michelle Appleton)/Supplied by Britney Stewart)

“Mason was just the best thing that ever happened to him. He was so proud to be a dad,” said Stewart, adding that the couple had planned to have more children.

“That’s probably one of the things that I miss the most, is watching their relationship … Like, nothing else existed,” she said.

“I think it’s hard for anyone to lose a spouse, but it’s incredibly difficult for a young family to lose one of the parents, just because when you lose them, you’re also losing all of the hopes and dreams that you had as a family … we lost that the day that we lost Josh.”

Josh Wakely is pictured with his son, Mason. Mason was two years old when Wakely died. (Supplied by Britney Stewart)

Strep diagnosed by different hospital in Kelowna

The claim said paramedics took Wakely to Kelowna General Hospital the day after Stewart brought him home.

Lab work confirmed a strep A infection, according to the lawsuit. The bacteria can cause a range of diseases, ranging from minor cases of strep throat to life-threatening illnesses.

Necrotizing fasciitis can be caused by group A strep bacteria. It spreads quickly and is often difficult to diagnose because other infections can lead to similar symptoms, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The centre said quick treatment is “key,” but as many as one in three people with the illness still die.

Wakely had surgery to try and remove the dead tissue, but the claim said he died just before 1:30 a.m. on March 2.

Stewart is suing four physicians and Northern Health for negligence, seeking compensation under the Family Compensation Act on behalf of herself, her son and her in-laws.

“Mr. Wakely submitted to the medical care, treatment and professional services of the defendants,” read the claim. “By reason of the negligence of the defendants … Mr. Wakely died.”

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