The family of a Winnipeg woman who died last week of COVID-19 in an Ontario intensive care unit is urging Manitobans to get vaccinated as soon as possible and do everything they can to protect themselves from the virus.
Although she'd already had her first dose of vaccine, Kimberly Dawn Bullard, 57, died June 1 in London, Ont.
She was taken by ambulance to a Winnipeg hospital in late May, just four days after she started feeling sick, her family said. She was airlifted directly to Ontario after being admitted to hospital, and died after spending about 10 days in the London ICU.
Bullard, a member of Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, was an active figure in Manitoba's Indigenous business development community.
For more than 30 years, she worked for the Dakota Ojibway Tribal Council, moving up from administrative assistant to general manager and chairwoman of the annual Vision Quest business conference. She was a mother of four and was raising her six-year-old granddaughter.
Bullard is one of two COVID-19 patients from Manitoba to die after being transferred for care. Last week, a man in his 30s died after spending time in an Ontario hospital.
Another Indigenous woman, 31-year-old Krystal Mousseau, died in Manitoba after an attempted out-of-province transport.
More than 50 Manitobans have been transferred to hospitals in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta because of local staff shortages and a lack of hospital space during the third wave of the pandemic.
As of Monday, 36 Manitobans were still being treated in out-of-province ICUs; 17 had returned home.
"I was so choked up, because I knew, I knew she wasn't going to be back. I couldn't even get the words out, I couldn't tell her that I loved her." — James Bullard
Since her death, several of Bullard's business contacts have reached out to her family to describe how she helped their careers.
"I've heard from a number of people who called her their mentor," said her sister, Tannis Bullard.
"She worked with many, many, many people, and they all benefited from her knowledge," her younger brother, James Bullard, added.
The night before Bullard died, James talked to her on the phone.
The doctors had said she was improving, and her breathing tube had been removed, allowing her to speak, he said. Bullard told him she loved him. He said he could tell from the sound of her voice she wouldn't make it home.
"I was so choked up, because I knew, I knew she wasn't going to be back. I couldn't even get the words out, I couldn't tell her that I loved her."
The next day, Bullard's condition took a turn. Hours before she died, James received his second vaccine dose — even more determined to get the shot knowing his sister was hospitalized 1,800 kilometres away.
There was no chance for a final visit.
"It's not convenient for the family, but just as long as she got treatment, that's all that matters. All's I know is I just miss my sister and wish she was still here, that's all. As for anything else, I think it's just moot," James said.
The family is planning a large service for next year in Sioux Valley, where ceremonial songs and prayers will guide Bullard's spirit — prayers that normally would have taken place at her bedside.
"Kim had a lot of life left in her, but it was just taken away." — James Bullard
"Had there not been a pandemic and had we known she was hospitalized here and that she was passing away, at the end of her life, there would have been an opportunity to do other things traditionally that we didn't get to do in this case," Tannis said.
Her body was expected to be brought back Monday to Manitoba; her siblings were told Ontario was paying for the transport.
Her family is urging others to protect themselves from the novel coronavirus.
"I would hope that people would get vaccinated," Tannis said. "COVID's real. There's people that still don't think COVID's real."
Her siblings said they'll remember Bullard as someone with big hair and a bigger laugh, who worked hard and cherished summers on Hecla Island.
Most of her friends have stuck by her since childhood, growing up in Winnipeg's North End. People seemed drawn to the go-getter attitude she had since she was a child, family said.
"She had focus; she knew what she wanted, and she made her choices and she raised a family. She was a very giving person and everybody liked her," James said.
"Kim had a lot of life left in her, but it was just taken away."
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.