Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Tyler MacGregor of Kamloops has fond childhood memories of life in Anahim Lake and Alexis Creek that give him a connection to the Cariboo Chilcotin.
The Kamloops doctor said because of those connections, he started doing clinics a few times a year as part of the visiting specialist program at Cariboo Memorial Hospital in Williams Lake before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I had very positive experiences here when I was a child and wanted to come back. Once I did that, the health professionals in the community, the hospital and the people here then said how can I -we continue to develop orthopedic services in our community.
He credited surgical nurse Karen Hill for helping get him started and chief of staff Dr Paul Magnuson for asking how the hospital could help.
His clinics turned into more frequent outfits and the desire to expand into the surgical side of things led him to do knee endoscopes and eventually hip replacements in day surgery that fit 10 to 15% of patients.
The demand is there for orthopedic surgery, he added.
“The patient population needs it. I got a lot of feedback from the team here at the hospital and from the community that they were happy to have the services here.
He travels to Williams Lake every two months and often does two days of surgery and one day of clinic.
“I will usually do two hip replacements in the morning and two endoscopes in the afternoon and come to see a series of patients after the operating room is finished.”
Some of the patients are not his own, but are challenged to travel to Kamloops, such as elders or people who live in the Nemiah Valley or West Chilcotin, for example.
“It’s a great trip to go down to Kamloops and if you’re 80 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 people driving down the road in the dead of winter.
Dr. Derek Butterwick, another orthopedic surgeon who specializes in hip and knee replacements, foot and ankle reconstruction, and orthopedic trauma, also came to CMH.
“We’ve gotten to the point where we have enough demand and there are the resources here to be able to do that,” MacGregor said.
Other specialists coming to Williams Lake from Kamloops are Dr. Michael Ross, an ophthalmologist, Dr. William Cleland an ortorhinolaryngologist and Dr. Ellen Forbes a urologist from Victoria.
“I’m sure there are other specialists visiting, but these are the surgical specialists I know. One of the great things I’ve seen here is the medical community’s desire to expand this program to provide much-needed care to the people of this area.
With current restrictions on health care resources, he said waiting lists are long.
In Kamloops alone, 1,700 people are waiting for orthopedic surgery.
“When I started coming here and we started scaling the program, we hadn’t yet gone through surgical expansion in Kamloops and I was saying we had to grab every minute of available operating time and use all the services available in our region and the team here have mobilized to advance the orthopedic room, which has never existed here.
He views the opportunity to work at Williams Lake as a way to give back for the support he received growing up.
“I went from the occasional clinic to two orthopedic surgeons who come here, almost every month now. We are doing joint replacements in Williams Lake – it’s unheard of – and it will continue to grow.
CMH surgical nurses travel to the Royal Inland Hospital and work on MacGregor’s cases in the operating room to gain experience to report.
“The work we do here is of high quality,” he added. “I know the nurses here have put a lot of effort into training and skills in orthopedic surgery.”
Born in Matsqui, just outside Abbotsford, his father’s first teaching job moved the family to Telegraph Creek in northwestern British Columbia.
“School supplies were limited, so my dad took my cloth diapers to school for the students to dye, so I ran around wearing tie-dye diapers.”
Hans Lutters was the principal and when he was transferred to Anahim Lake, he brought MacGregor’s father there to teach. After a few years at Anahim Lake, they moved to Alexis Creek in 1983, where they lived for three years.
Her mother got her teaching certificate and taught at the Tl’etinqox First Nation school just down the street.
“These are quite formative years in the life of a young person,” he said. “My kindergarten teacher was Mrs. Lefferson and Mrs. Bayliff was my 2nd/3rd grade teacher.”
In 1986, the family moved to the Yukon when he was halfway through Grade 3, which he remembers as a challenge. They lived in a small community in Mayo which was 400 kilometers north of Whitehorse with about 350 people.
He was the only 12th grader when he graduated from high school, just like his older brother. There were only 80 students at that time because the local Elsa mine closed.
“We went from a full hockey team winning the Yukon Championships to three in a matter of months.”
During their years in the Yukon, the MacGregors maintained some of the relationships they had established in the Chilcotin, he said, noting that his parents had just left the Yukon last fall after 35 years.
“I had a lady come here yesterday to see me from the west and we were chatting. She was laughing because I was telling her that when Mrs Bayliff was my teacher she brought eggs to school and let them hatch. She asked us to draw them every year and you received this booklet of your one-week egg-to-chicken drawings.
His father often participated in the canoe races at Lake Anahim, and MacGregor remembers throwing juice boxes from the bridge into the canoe as he passed.
“Dad actually won a couple of times. I remember the big barbecue with steaks and potatoes.
Once he was sitting on the fence during the Lake Anahim Stampede when a bull hit him and MacGregor fell into it.
“I asked this guy to get down and get me back on the fence. Mom panicked.
He has worked at the Royal Inland Hospital since 2017 and is married with three young sons.
ChilcotinDoctorsHealth and MedicineWilliams Lake