The father of an 11-month-old who is unable to get surgery or medical treatment is going public with his concerns over the deepening health-care crisis in Saskatchewan caused by surging COVID-19 cases.
Graham Dickson said his daughter, Helen, is suspected of having cerebral palsy.
But the decision to draw down or suspend some non-emergency services in Saskatchewan means that a final diagnosis has been delayed, and surgeries or procedures that could improve his daughter’s quality of life have been put on the back burner.
“I am scared that she’s going to have long-term impacts from this that she’ll have to suffer with for the rest of her life, which to me is just baffling,” he said. “I don’t understand why we’re in this position.”
A system gone wrong
The family is not alone.
Saskatchewan’s health-care system has been pushed to its limit dealing with COVID-19, and Helen is one of thousands of people whose treatment has been delayed and affected by provincial decisions.
Saskatchewan has been forced to cancel 200 surgeries a day as it tries to combat the rising numbers of cases, according to Dr. Hassan Masri, an intensive care specialist who works at Royal University Hospital and St. Paul’s Hospital in Saskatoon.
“We have [had] over 200 surgeries and procedures being cancelled every single day now for the last two weeks,” he said in an interview. “So we’re talking about almost 3,000 surgeries and procedures that have been cancelled over the span of two weeks.”
He expects the cancellations will continue, as will the ramifications on people’s health.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) was asked on Monday — and repeatedly since — to provide data on the number of cancelled surgeries to allow the CBC to verify Masri’s statements.
The SHA said it’s working on the request, but hasn’t responded with any further information this week.
Meanwhile, Dickson, his partner Laura Weins and their daughter Helen are in limbo.
Dickson and Weins learned about her pregnancy on the day Premier Scott Moe announced the first case of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan.
That brought its own series of ups and downs. Helen was born underweight and has developed significant health issues.
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Cerebral palsy isn’t usually diagnosed until a child is two years old and it’s done through a process of elimination that requires many tests and surgeries.
While Helen’s seen many different specialists, appointments and procedures have begun to fall apart in recent months, as COVID-19 cases in the province rose.
The latest cancellation was for surgery on Helen’s eye. Scheduled for later this year, it was postponed as a result of a decision made in mid-September by the SHA to suspend some of its non-emergency services.
The province’s organ transplant program has been stopped altogether and some aspects of home care, rehabilitation, diabetes counselling and brain and heart procedures were put on hold to deal with the pandemic.
But the number of COVID-19 cases has continued to rise — and so have the number of cancellations for Helen and others.
This week, Dickson and Weins were informed that the Kinsmen Children’s Centre in Saskatoon is no longer able to provide the occupational and physical therapies that Helen needs.
They’re now waiting for a phone call to learn when the program will resume.
“I’m trying to keep that in mind and not be angry, but it’s so hard not to be, because this crisis was avoidable,” said Dickson. “Health-care experts, epidemiologists, public health experts — they all warned of this.”
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‘Leaving an impact’
The current situation in Saskatchewan is difficult for everyone, Masri said.
“These are significant, significant challenges, and it is leaving an impact on the lives of people here in Saskatchewan — not just the vaccinated or unvaccinated. On everyone,” he said.
“Because the hospitals are full of unvaccinated folks, but outside of the hospital, people who have received their vaccines are now having their surgeries cancelled, their procedures cancelled.”
He said that doesn’t just mean elective surgeries, but also things like cancer treatments. The procedures may not be emergencies, but they still need to be done for an individual to be healthy, Masri said.
Forcing people to wait two or three months can produce more suffering, a shift in the quality of life, or even potentially death, he said.
Moe has resisted calls for any further restrictions to be implemented in the province. He has said he doesn’t want to punish those who made the choice to get vaccinated.
But Dickson, who is vaccinated, disagrees.
“The people who are being punished are the most vulnerable people in our community, like my 11-month-old daughter,” he said.
Dickson said his anger isn’t directed at those who remain unvaccinated, but at the politicians who aren’t putting more restrictions in place to reduce the province’s growing number of COVID-19 cases in order to ease the burden on the medical system, so that health care can get back to normal.
Parents or family members suffering through situations like his need to speak up and make it clear that this is unacceptable, said Dickson.
“If we don’t tell our story and put pressure on the government, nothing’s going to change.”
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