Story at a glance

  • An elderly woman in Canada this summer was diagnosed as suffering from climate change after facing breathing issues.
  • Healthcare professionals in the Canadian city where the woman was diagnosed responded by forming the group Doctors and Nurses for Planetary Health.
  • Record-breaking heat in June is believed to have killed more than 500 people in British Columbia alone.

A Canadian woman could be the first patient to be diagnosed as suffering from “climate change” after doctors said heatwaves and poor air quality brought on acute breathing problems.

Kyle Merritt, an emergency room doctor in Nelson, British Columbia who was responsible for the diagnosis, told Glacier Media that it was the first time in a decade he had determined a patient’s cause of suffering to be climate change.

“If we’re not looking at the underlying cause, and we’re just treating the symptoms, we’re just gonna keep falling further and further behind,” he said.

Merritt added that the patient, who is in her 70s, was diagnosed in the summer shortly after a heatwave in June sent temperatures soaring past 121 degrees Fahrenheit.


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Record-breaking heat in Canada this summer is believed to have killed more than 500 people in British Columbia alone, according to coroner reports, and wildfires caused the air quality in the province to become 43 times worse than levels deemed acceptably safe through July and August.

“She has diabetes. She has some heart failure...She lives in a trailer, no air conditioning,” Merritt said of the patient. “All of her health problems have all been worsened. And she’s really struggling to stay hydrated.”

Clinicians in Nelson following the diagnosis launched Doctors and Nurses for Planetary Health, an initiative of about 40 healthcare professionals “working to better human health by protecting the planet,” according to the group’s Twitter page.

“I don’t think people realize the impacts of environmental degradation and climate change on human health,” Merritt told the local British Columbia news outlet Castlegar News during a climate action demonstration last week. “Working with patients directly, we are actually starting to see the health effects of climate change now. It’s not just something that is going to happen in the future.”


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Published on Nov 08, 2021