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Regina woman pondered MAID after enduring six years of pain, long wait

Leader Post logo Leader Post 2022-11-30 Jeremy Simes
Jolene Van Alstine who is one of the 36,000 Saskatchewan people currently waiting for surgery sits beside by her partner Miles Sundeen who speaks to the media about their challenges. © Provided by Leader Post Jolene Van Alstine who is one of the 36,000 Saskatchewan people currently waiting for surgery sits beside by her partner Miles Sundeen who speaks to the media about their challenges.
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Miles Sundeen began to choke up with tears after describing the desperate measures his wife, Jolene Van Alstine, has considered while painfully waiting to see a specialist.

Van Alstine, who has endured six years of abdominal pain, bone fractures and depression from her parathyroid hyperplasia condition, had released her medical records to the Medical Assistance In Dying (MAID) program, Sundeen said on Wednesday.

Specialists told her not to proceed with MAID, noting her condition isn’t terminal, but Sundeen continues to worry. He said it may be another two years before Van Alstine can see an endocrinologist, which is too long.

“It’s just to a point where I’m afraid, driving home from Moose Jaw after work, she won’t be there when I get there,” he said. “The hopelessness has just taken over her life.”

Van Alstine is among thousands of patients in Saskatchewan seeking a diagnosis or surgery to deal with their pain and get on to the path of recovery.

She joined the provincial NDP on Wednesday asking the government to get wait-times under control for patients to see a specialist or receive surgery.

 Jolene Van Alstine who is one of the 36,000 Saskatchewan people currently waiting for surgery speaks to the media about there challenges at the Saskatchewan Legislative Building on Wednesday, November 30, 2022 in Regina. Jolene has endured six years of pain as a result of her Parathyroid Hyperplasia condition and has been informed that it will be another two years before she can even anticipate securing a surgery date. © KAYLE NEIS Jolene Van Alstine who is one of the 36,000 Saskatchewan people currently waiting for surgery speaks to the media about there challenges at the Saskatchewan Legislative Building on Wednesday, November 30, 2022 in Regina. Jolene has endured six years of pain as a result of her Parathyroid Hyperplasia condition and has been informed that it will be another two years before she can even anticipate securing a surgery date.

While the government has a plan to get people into operating rooms as soon as possible, the Opposition believes the government could do more to attract and retain specialists. The more specialists that are available, the sooner people can get referred to surgery, said health critic Vicki Mowat.

“We have $2.4 billion in revenues in this province,” Mowat told reporters. “The province is doing well, but the people are not doing well. And that’s not OK.”

As of June, there were nearly 36,000 people waiting for surgery in the province. While people in other provinces are also experiencing long waits, Saskatchewan’s backlog, on a per capita basis, remains relatively high.

National data compiled by SecondStreet.org shows that Saskatchewan ranks third when it comes to the surgical wait-list.

With a population of 1.13 million and 35,969 waiting as of June, that means 3.18 per cent of people in the province are waiting. The national rate was 1.79 per cent; 663,856 people of Canada’s 37 million people in the country were waiting.

By comparison, Alberta and British Columbia’s rate was 1.77 per cent and 1.78 per cent, respectively. Only Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as New Brunswick had higher rates at 3.6 per cent and 3.51 per cent, respectively.

T he province has said it’s working to address the backlog by increasing the number of surgeries Saskatchewan can complete. The government is looking to pay private providers to reduce the backlog, including clinics located outside the province.

The province’s surgical waiting list has been growing since 2015 and ballooned during the COVID-19 pandemic, when government twice postponed elective surgeries to cope with a flood of sick patients in hospital.

 Jolene Van Alstine who is one of the 36,000 Saskatchewan people currently waiting for surgery sits beside by her partner Miles Sundeen who speaks to the media about their challenges. © KAYLE NEIS Jolene Van Alstine who is one of the 36,000 Saskatchewan people currently waiting for surgery sits beside by her partner Miles Sundeen who speaks to the media about their challenges.

Rural and Remote Health Minister Everett Hindley acknowledged Saskatchewan’s surgical backlog is significant, but said he believes the province is already seeing results from the investments it has made.

He said it has also been a challenge to hire specialists given they are in high demand across the country. He added the government’s new health human resources agency will be addressing those staffing needs.

As for Van Alstine’s case, he said he needs to learn more about it but is concerned.

Sundeen explained Van Alstine had previously received surgery in 2020 to have some of her glands removed. She momentarily felt better but the pain returned shortly thereafter. He explained it’s possible one of her glands that wasn’t removed could be overcompensating.

Since then, they have been trying to see the same endocrinologist who diagnosed her, but the wait is coming up on three years.

He said they tried going out of province but were told the wait-lists were just as long. They also contemplated going to the United States but can’t afford it.

“I know there’s a lot of people on wait-lists. We’ve done our time with six years,” he said. “We want to see an endocrinologist quicker.”

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jsimes@postmedia.com 

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