Wil­liams to go to U.S. for surgery

N.L. premier’s de­ci­sion has trig­gered a heated de­bate

Cape Breton Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY SUE BAI­LEY

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — A tor­rent of pub­lic sym­pa­thy, anger and ridicule flowed into a vacuum of of­fi­cial in­for­ma­tion Tues­day about the heart health of Danny Wil­liams.

The New­found­land and Labrador premier’s de­ci­sion to have undis­closed car­diac surgery at an un­named U.S. clinic also reignited a sim­mer­ing de­bate about the state of Cana­dian health care.

His deputy premier, Kathy Dun­derdale, waded into the fray with few de­tails be­yond stress­ing that treat­ment in St. John’s wasn’t of­fered.

“Hav­ing the surgery done in the prov­ince was never an op­tion,” she said.

Wil­liams, 60, said noth­ing of his im­pend­ing de­par­ture when he met re­porters Fri­day af­ter a meet­ing with Prime Min­is­ter Stephen Harper in St. John’s.

The avid hockey and golf buff looked fit and rested at the time. He is said to have joked to friends that it will be tough­est to miss his weekly chance to cut up the ice in a recre­ational hockey league.

Wil­liams met over the last sev­eral weeks with lo­cal doc­tors be­fore leav­ing town, Dun­derdale said. As his gov­ern­ment moves ahead with bud­get prepa­ra­tions, the premier is ex­pected to be out of com­mis­sion for three to 12 weeks.

“Any heart surgery is se­ri­ous,” Dun­derdale said. “How­ever, his prog­no­sis is very, very good.”

An out­pour­ing of well wishes for the premier’s speedy re­cov­ery hit the In­ter­net and lit up open line call-in shows. In no-holds­barred New­found­land fash­ion, many writ­ers and callers ex­pressed their sup­port for an icon-like leader, and their dis­taste for what they con­sid­ered me­dia pry­ing into med­i­cal af­fairs.

Oth­ers as­sailed Wil­liams for cre­at­ing con­fu­sion by not is­su­ing a clear state­ment be­fore head­ing for the bor­der.

And there were those who boiled it down to mat­ters of money.

“Gee, it must be nice to be able to af­ford to by­pass Canada’s crappy health-care sys­tem and its dan­ger­ously long wait­ing lists for surgery,” said one per­son in a post to the Globe and Mail web­site.

“Some peo­ple are more spe­cial than oth­ers, I guess.”

Wil­liams made news in the U.S. too.

“This is what hap­pens when you have a health care sys­tem whose goal is sav­ing money, not lives,” said a blog­ger with the Charleston Daily News.

Dun­derdale de­clined to say what kind of pro­ce­dure Wil­liams needs, where and when it will take place or whether it was avail­able else­where in the coun­try.

She was asked what kind of mes­sage his de­ci­sion might send to peo­ple who can’t af­ford care in the U.S.

“Ul­ti­mately we have to be the gate­keep­ers of our own health and he has taken med­i­cal ad­vice from a num­ber of dif­fer­ent sources,” Dun­derdale said. “He is do­ing what’s best for him.”

Wil­liams, a self-con­fessed worka­holic fa­ther of four grown chil­dren and a grand­fa­ther of four, also wanted “to do ev­ery­thing he could to have the best out­come and be back on his feet and back do­ing his job as quickly as pos­si­ble,” she said.

Dun­derdale wasn’t sure if Wil­liams would cover his own med­i­cal costs.

“I would ex­pect that he is el­i­gi­ble for all that the rest of us would be in terms of our own pri­vate in­sur­ance or gov­ern­ment in­sur­ance and I’m sure if there’s any­thing over and above that the premier will cer­tainly take care of it him­self.”

Dun­derdale will serve as the prov­ince’s act­ing premier while Wil­liams re­cov­ers.

Wil­liams, an in­de­pen­dently wealthy for­mer lawyer and busi­ness­man, do­nates his premier’s salary to his own foun­da­tion that funds lo­cal char­i­ties.

He is will­ing to ex­plain his de­ci­sion once he is well enough to do so, Dun­derdale said.

Pub­lic ver­sus pri­vate health care is a hot po­tato that has landed in many po­lit­i­cal laps. For­mer Lib­eral prime min­is­ter Paul Martin took flak in 2004 for the fact that his long­time physi­cian ran a net­work of pri­vate clin­ics. Martin de­nied ever us­ing pri­vate health care.

For­mer Tory prime min­is­ter Joe Clark was crit­i­cized by the for­mer Cana­dian Al­liance party af­ter he said he had surgery at a pri­vate clinic in the late 1980s.

And for­mer Que­bec premier Robert Bourassa had skin can­cer treat­ments in the early 1990s as part of a clin­i­cal trial at the U.S. Na­tional Can­cer In­sti­tute in Bethesda, Md. An in­sti­tute spokesman at the time said the U.S. gov­ern­ment cov­ered the bill.

The head of East­ern Health, the prov­ince’s largest health au­thor­ity, said Wil­liams headed south on the ad­vice of lo­cal physi­cians.

“He trusted us,” said Vickie Kamin­ski. “And he trusted their rec­om­men­da­tions — which were re­fer­rals out of the prov­ince.”

Kamin­ski stressed that Wil­liams had “some very high risk surgery done here in the past on his back.”

Asked what sorts of car­diac pro­ce­dures are not avail­able in the prov­ince, she said it’s more about ap­pro­pri­ate treat­ment and cut­ting-edge tech­nol­ogy.

“There are some very new tech­niques that come on the mar­ket that will be pi­loted and tested, and there will be a small lo­cus of peo­ple across North Amer­ica do­ing it just be­cause there aren’t enough pa­tients who qual­ify.”

Kamin­ski would not talk in any de­tail about the premier’s con­di­tion, cit­ing pri­vacy is­sues.

Kamin­ski said there are 55 car­diac pa­tients on wait lists for treat­ment in the prov­ince but “all of them are get­ting their surgery within the wait times that are be­ing rec­om­mended.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.