‘It can be done here’

Daugh­ter says outof-prov­ince surgery un­nec­es­sary for el­derly fa­ther


Three days of worry started on May 7 for Dana Sel­lars and her fam­ily.

The Car­bon­ear woman had opted to stay in New­found­land while her par­ents trav­elled to Hal­i­fax for her fa­ther’s surgery, one Sel­lars be­lieves should have been per­formed in St. John’s.

John Gilling­ham has had Parkin­son’s for 17 years — a dis­or­der of the ner­vous sys­tem that causes tremors, rigid­ity, stiff­ness and other ail­ments. He re­ceived a Deep Brain Stim­u­la­tion (DBS) sys­tem five years ago, which sends elec­tri­cal im­pulses to his brain and helps curb the tremors of some Parkin­son’s pa­tients.

The clos­est lo­ca­tion to in­stall this sys­tem through surgery is Hal­i­fax, where Gilling­ham last had the DBS im­planted.

Ev­ery five years the bat­tery in the DBS sys­tem must be re­placed. The surgery takes about 15 min­utes to com­plete and costs be­tween $10,000 and $20,000, but neu­rol­o­gists with Eastern Health have only per­formed the pro­ce­dure for emer­gency sit­u­a­tions. Since July 2013, six pa­tients have re­ceived an emer­gency bat­tery re­place­ment in New­found­land and Labrador. There have been 23 pa­tients since 2012-13 that trav­elled out of prov­ince for DBS-re­lated surg­eries.

Short pro­ce­dure

Sel­lars is not happy that her el­derly par­ents had to fly to Hal­i­fax for three days for the 15minute surgery.

“It can be done here,” she told The Compass last week. “And nei­ther of my par­ents are well enough to travel.”

Sel­lar’s mother Glenys has some health is­sues that can be chal­leng­ing while trav­el­ling as well.

Gilling­ham knew he was go­ing to have to get the bat­tery changed be­fore June. That was the five-year dead­line. Sel­lars reached out to the Depart­ment of Health and Com­mu­nity Ser­vices to find a way to avoid trav­el­ling out of prov­ince. She ex­plained her fa­ther’s sit­u­a­tion, and re­quested to have Eastern Health au­tho­rize the neu­rol­o­gist in the prov­ince with ex­pe­ri­ence chang­ing the bat­tery pack to per­form the surgery, and not just for her fa­ther, but for all af­fected.

A short re­sponse from Health Min­is­ter Steve Kent’s min­is­te­rial li­ai­son said, “Your cor­re­spon­dence will be re­viewed for ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion.” So Sel­lars waited.

“I was im­pressed with how quickly they got back to me first,” she ex­plained, but there was a long wait for a fol­low up. She sent an­other mes­sage in mid-April and wrote again the day

her par­ents ar­rived in Hal­i­fax. She was still wait­ing for a re­sponse when she spoke with The Compass last Wed­nes­day. Kent replied to re­quests for an in­ter­view im­me­di­ately, and was un­aware she did not re­ceive a re­sponse. Sel­lars re­ceived an apolo­getic email for the over­sight. The health min­is­ter does ap­pear to be open to re­assess­ing that ar­range­ment.

Depart­ment look­ing into it

“The bat­tery re­place­ment can be done here, and is ap­par­ently rel­a­tively sim­ple to do, and we are work­ing with Eastern Health to sort this out quickly,” he ex­plained in an email to The Compass. “The Sel­lars fam­ily raises a le­git­i­mate con­cern, and we are act­ing on it.”

Sel­lars feels it’s too lit­tle too late. Her par­ents spent some $1,500 out of pocket for travel, ac­com­mo­da­tions and food while in Hal­i­fax. But it wasn’t the money that was the prob­lem.

“My par­ents are just com­pletely ex­hausted,” she said. “Be­cause of the tim­ing, they in­serted a brand new bat­tery pack, it’s like go­ing from a flip phone to an iPhone. But, if it had have been in St. John’s, the time would have been there to sit with mom and dad and ex­plain, ‘Now this is the dif­fer­ence, this is how this one is go­ing to work com­pared to the other one.’ They had a five-minute ses­sion in Hal­i­fax.”

The sit­u­a­tion cre­ated stress and anx­i­ety for the fam­ily, as their fa­ther and mother were forced to wait alone in the wait­ing room in Hal­i­fax.

Since it’s too late for the Gilling­hams, Sel­lars wants to see a change soon so no one else will have to travel for a sim­ple pro­ce­dure. And Kent agrees.

“I want this pro­ce­dure to be per­formed here as soon as pos­si­ble,” Kent said. “We don’t need to send peo­ple out of prov­ince for this.”


Glenys (left) and John Gilling­ham just re­turned from a three-day trip to Hal­i­fax so John could have a 15-minute surgery that is not cov­ered in this prov­ince.

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