Ken Gillies had just celebrated his 39th wedding anniversary with his wife, Kathy, when he suffered light chest pains and calmly began driving to Nanaimo’s hospital.
Tragically, the retired teacher died en route, and his wife fears it was minutes lost to dropped calls trying to reach 911 due to weak cell phone coverage that ended his life early.
“You needed help, and you couldn’t get it. I don’t want that to happen to another family,” Kathy Gillies told CHEK News.
It happened on July 12 as the couple approached Hammond Bay Road. Ken suffered a heart attack while driving to the hospital.
Quickly, Kathy grabbed her cell phone and tried desperately to call 911, even enlisting the help of delivery drivers and passing motorists to call 911 too, but none could get enough connection to complete their calls.
“I was panicking because I didn’t know how much time was passing,” said Kathy.
She says a motorist drove a long distance away to successfully call, and her husband couldn’t be revived despite an hour-long effort by paramedics.
“Ken had just turned 72. He had a lot of life left to live,” said Kathy.
So, still grieving her husband, she’s urging action to improve cell coverage in the busy residential area, which has grown quickly with development since the last cell tower was denied in 2011.
“I mean, we’re talking about seconds and minutes that are important,” she said.
Area resident Angie Beynon agrees.
“I mean, we have to ask ourselves why we don’t have good cell coverage. Is it just because some people don’t like the look of it or they have some other fears, I don’t know, but the common good and our safety should be the number one concern,” said Beynon.
According to Bill Corsan, director of Corporate and Business Development for the City of Nanaimo, the city and cell phone providers are in the process of trying to fix the issue now.
“We don’t build cell towers, we require the private sector to do that. The cell phone companies have identified a couple of sites, and they’re working with property holders,” said Corsan.
“We’re optimistic that there will be notice to the public this fall,” he added.
It’s too late to save Ken, but his widow says that just like the dedicated teacher did in life, he’s helping shed light on something important.