Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Tyler MacGregor of Kamloops has fond childhood memories of living in Anahim Lake and Alexis Creek that give him a connection to the Cariboo Chilcotin.
The Kamloops doctor said because of those ties he started doing clinics a couple of times a year through the visiting specialists program at Cariboo Memorial Hospital in Williams Lake before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I had very positive experiences here as a kid and wanted to come back. Once I was doing that, the medical professionals in the community, the hospital and the people here then said how can we continue to develop the orthopedic services in our community.”
He credited surgery nurse Karen Hill with helping get it going as well as Chief of Staff Dr. Paul Magnuson for asking how the hospital could help.
His clinics morphed into being held more often and the desire to expand to the surgical aspect of things resulted in him doing knee scopes and eventually day-surgery hip replacements which are appropriate for 10 to 15 per cent of patients.
The demand is here for orthopedic surgery, he added.
“The patient population needs it. I got lots of feedback from the team here at the hospital and the community that they were happy to have the services here.”
He travels to Williams Lake every couple of months and will often do two days of operating and one day of clinic.
“I’ll do typically two hip replacements in the morning and two scopes in the afternoon and come and see a series of patients after the OR is done.”
Some of the patients are not his own, but are challenged to get down to Kamloops such as elders or people that live out in Nemiah Valley or the West Chilcotin, for example.
“It’s a big trip to go down to Kamloops and if you are 80 years old and trying to go to Kamloops for a follow up in the winter it’s a challenge. In my mind it’s better to have me on the road – one person – than 30 driving down the road in the middle of winter.”
Dr. Derek Butterwick, another orthopedic surgeon who specializes in hip and knee replacement, foot and ankle reconstruction and orthopedic trauma has also been coming to CMH.
“We got to the point where we have enough demand and there are the resources here to be able to do this” MacGregor said.
Other specialists coming to Williams Lake from Kamloops are Dr. Michael Ross, an ophthalmologist, Dr. William Cleland an ortolaryngologist and Dr. Ellen Forbes a urologist from Victoria.
“I am sure there are other visiting specialists, but those are the surgical specialist that I know of. One of the great things I have seen here is the desire of the medical community to grow this program to provide the much-needed care to the people from this region.”
With the current restraint on health care resources, he said wait-lists are long.
In Kamloops alone there are 1,700 people waiting for orthopedic surgeries.
“When I first started coming here and we started to evolve the program we hadn’t gone through the surgical expansion in Kamloops yet and I was saying we need to grab every available minute of operating time and make use of every service that is available in our region and the team here stepped up to advance the orthopedic room, which has never existed here.”
He views the opportunity to work in Williams Lake as a way to give back for the support he received growing up.
“I’ve gone from doing the occasional clinic to you’ve got two orthopedic surgeons coming here, almost monthly now. We are doing joint replacements in Williams Lake – it’s unheard of – and it’s going to continue to expand.”
The surgical nurses from CMH are travelling to Royal Inland Hospital and scrubbing into MacGregor’s cases in the operating room to gain experience to bring back.
“The work we do here is high quality,” he added. “I know the nurses here have put in a lot of effort for training and learning orthopedic surgical skills.”
Born in Matsqui, just outside of Abbotsford, his dad’s first teaching job moved the family to Telegraph Creek in the northwest of B.C.
“With schools supplies being limited, my dad took my cloth diapers to school for the students to tie-dye them so I ran around wearing tie-dyed diapers.”
Hans Lutters was the principal and when he got a transfer to Anahim Lake he brought MacGregor’s dad down there to teach. After a few years in Anahim Lake they moved to Alexis Creek in 1983, where they lived for three years.
His mom obtained her teaching certificate and taught in the school at Tl’etinqox First Nation just down the road.
“Those are pretty formative years in a young person’s life,” he said. “My Kindergarten teacher was Mrs. Lefferson and Mrs. Bayliff was my Grade 2/3 teacher.”
In 1986 the family moved to the Yukon when he was halfway through Grade 3, which he recalls as a challenge. They lived in a small community of Mayo which was 400 kilometres north of Whitehorse with about 350 people.
He was the only Grade 12 student when he graduated from high school as was his oldest brother. There were only 80 students by that time because the local Elsa mine shut down.
“We went from having a full-on hockey team that was winning the Yukon championships to three of us within months.”
Through their years in the Yukon the MacGregors maintained some of the connections they made in the Chilcotin, he said, noting his parents just moved down from the Yukon last fall after 35 years.
“I had a lady come in here yesterday to see me from out west and we were chatting away. She was laughing because I was telling her when Mrs. Bayliff was my teacher she’d brought eggs to school and let them hatch. She would get us to draw them every year and you’d get this booklet of your drawings from the egg through to the one-week old chicken.”
His dad competed in the canoe races at the Anahim Lake often and MacGregor remembers throwing juice boxes off the bridge into the canoe as it went by.
“Dad actually won a few times. I remember the great big barbecue with steaks and potatoes.”
One time he was sitting on the fence during the Anahim Lake Stampede when a bull hit it, and MacGregor fell in.
“I had this guy reach down and put me back on the fence. Mom was panicking.”
He has been working at Royal Inland Hospital since 2017, and is married with three young sons.