Premier Williams leaves us guessing
Danny Williams has broken cover with a blunt but less than clear explanation for why he chose to have heart surgery in the United States rather than Canada. “ This was my heart, my choice and my health,” the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador declaimed from his condominium in Sarasota, Florida.
There’s no arguing with that, as far as it goes. The only question is what peculiar obligation goes along with this by virtue of Williams’s position as a prominent political figure in the country whose actions might be expected to have some influence on public attitudes towards the health care that we have.
Certainly, few Canadians would say Williams’s obligation would extend to subjecting himself to trauma or risk for the sake of political optics. From Williams’s comments it’s apparent that he believed Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami offered him the “ best possible health care” for his condition, a leaky mitral valve, notwithstanding his insistence that he also has “utmost confidence in our health-care system.”
However, Williams in his public persona did owe Newfoundlanders and all Canadians a full, clear explanation of his decision, and on that he came up short. Never mind that right wing zealots opposed to President Barack Obama’s health-care reform proposals in the United States seized on Williams as a poster boy for their crusade, supposedly proving that even this head of a province didn’t trust his health to socialized medicine. That craziness is not Williams’s responsibility, but clarity to Canadians is.
Williams’s remarks at first were interpreted as meaning that minimally invasive valve repair isn’t available in Canada but what he actually said is that it “was not offered to me in Canada,” which could mean that Canadian specialists in the procedure were consulted but recommended against it in his case, favouring the alternative full or partial sternotomy – opening the chest.
Dr. Thierry Mesana, chief of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute cardiac surgery division and described by Maclean’s as a leading authority on mitral valves, notes a recent survey published at the Society of Thoracic Surgeons meeting which expressed caution in use of the procedure, showing it is not recommended for complex repair and carries a higher rate of complication, especially strokes. The caution about complexity is interesting in light of earlier reports that Williams had expected his surgery to last 2 1 ⁄2 hours but it actually went six.
The irony here would be if Canadian specialists had offered the soundest, most up-to-date medical advice only to see their health system later slammed as backward.