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B.C. man learns life-changing surgery delayed again while headed for hospital

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A family in B.C.'s Comox Valley is devastated to be thrust back into limbo while waiting for a life-changing surgery.

They had made the trip to the Lower Mainland a day in advance and were on their way to the hospital when they found out the operation would be cancelled.

“I thought it was a joke at first,” says patient Ethan Baldwin. “Then it was real and it wasn’t a joke and so yeah, I accepted it. And let’s be honest, it was sh*t.”

The 19-year-old Courtenay man was diagnosed with idiopathic scoliosis as a child and became a candidate for spinal surgery when the curvature of his spine reached 50 degrees. If he were to do nothing, he says his spine would continue to rotate and could eventually puncture a lung.

The teen’s family says they've been waiting for seven years for him to get a corrective surgery, which has been complicated by delays borne out of the pandemic, along with another cancellation last year, too.

“It’s just deflating,” says Jennifer Lavoie, Ethan's mom. “I just feel like … the rug was out from under me again.”

BC Children’s Hospital’s chief surgeon can’t speak to the specifics of the patient's case.

“Any delay in care is something that everyone at BC Children’s Hospital feels deeply and takes seriously,” says Dr. Erik Skarsgard in a statement.

“The clinical decision-making to prioritize patients awaiting life-changing surgery is not taken lightly by leadership and has significant oversight by surgical specialists who carefully assess the evolving needs of patients, including their emotional well-being.”

The physician adds spinal surgeries are complex and can require more post-surgical care. Skarsgard says the team hopes to reschedule Ethan early in the new year.

B.C.’s health minister said on Wednesday he would look into the circumstances involving the delay.

“In the case of surgeries, we have a surgical renewal commitment, we’re doing a breathtaking number of surgeries this October, November and December in the midst of a very significant demand to healthcare. So we have increased dramatically, particularly in orthopedic surgeries and surgeries such as spinal surgeries,” says Adrian Dix.

An accountability group, BC Health Care Matters, says the Baldwin family deserves better.

“I’m really concerned as well when these kinds of very life-altering surgeries, which is what this is, are considered elective surgeries because the concern is that too often that’s used as an acceptable excuse for delays like this,” says founder Camille Currie.

Ethan’s mom says the cancellation fails to consider the expenses a family goes through to travel for such an operation. It’s grateful to have been supported by a charity for some of the costs but figures it’s out of pocket $8,000 when the parents factor in missed work, dog sitters and other expenses.

A GoFundMe is active to support the family as it hopes the next booking for Ethan’s surgery goes through.

“If I had to say what I was most frustrated about is the lack of consideration for the out of town people coming to the mainland,” says Lavoie. “It’s not just a waitlist. Their actions have consequences.”

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