B.C. family suspects wildfire smoke contributed to 9-year-old’s fatal asthma attack

B.C. parents James and Amber Vigh describe their nine-year-old son Carter as always smiling and the life of the party.

“He was the kid that was so full of life,” his mother told CTV News via Zoom from her home in 100 Mile House.

Carter lived with asthma but still maintained an active lifestyle and loved playing sports, according to his parents.

They say that on July 11, Carter was attending summer camp when wildfire smoke levels increased in the area. As a precaution, his parents say the group was brought inside to play games and that Carter seemed to be happy and doing well.

However, when he returned home, Carter went from playing on his iPad to coughing uncontrollably.

“Zero to a hundred,” said James Vigh. “I never expected that from asthma, you know. I just didn’t see this one coming.”

While Carter always carried a puffer and had been to the hospital before for asthma-related issues, his parents say this incident was unusual from the start.

Amber Vigh says she rushed Carter to the hospital and informed staff of the urgent situation.

“He was fighting so hard to breathe and all I could say was ‘Tell him I love him and just tell him to breathe.’”

His mother says an army of doctors and nurses worked on Carter for hours, but he never woke up.

“They just figured there was just something, something in the air I guess. Something to do with the wildfire smoke just exasperated it so much more and he tried but just couldn’t fight through it this time,” said Amber Vigh.

The BC Coroners Service confirmed it’s investigating Carter’s death and the role wildfire smoke played in aggravating his existing medical condition, issuing a public safety bulletin about the risks of wildfire smoke.

“The sudden and unexpected death of this young boy is a heartbreaking loss for his family and community,” the statement said. 

B.C.’s Health Ministry expressed condolences to the family, and emphasized the risks associated with wildfire smoke.

“Wildfire smoke can exacerbate pre-existing medical conditions and be dangerous for people who are already at risk,” the ministry wrote in a statement sent to CTV News.

For those living in smoky areas who are at-risk, the ministry recommends having rescue medication on hand at all times, staying hydrated and avoiding physical exertion.

People who are vulnerable are also advised to look for indoor environments that might be less smoky, such as shopping malls, community centres and libraries. In addition, high efficiency particulate air filters inside homes are recommended.

The province issued a Smoky Skies Bulletin on Monday, which has the majority of the province at risk of experiencing smoky conditions. Experts warn the wildfire season is far from over.

The Vigh family told CTV News they are sharing their son’s tragic story to raise awareness and help others living with asthma in regions impacted by wildfire smoke.

“When we came home he seemed fine, he sat on the couch and was talking to his siblings and playing on his tablet and he just started coughing like crazy,” said Amber Vigh.

The family says they’re still in shock and the community support is helping them cope with the immense loss.

“His one friend brought us a note that said when he first came to the school he didn’t have any friends and Carter was the first one to come up and welcome him to the school. He was the kid that would do anything for anyone,” said Amber Vigh.

A memorial service has been scheduled for the South Cariboo Recreation Centre on Saturday, July 22.


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