On­tario com­mits $32 mil­lion more to com­bat dan­ger­ously long waits for stem cell trans­plants

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - JOANNA FRKETICH

Laura Hil­lier’s legacy lives on as the prov­ince has pledged $32 mil­lion in new fund­ing this year to shorten dan­ger­ously long waits for stem cell trans­plants.

The money set aside in the 2017 bud­get means 150 more On­tar­i­ans a year will re­ceive the life-sav­ing can­cer treat­ment, thanks to the Burling­ton teen who re­vealed pa­tients un­der­went un­nec­es­sary chemo­ther­apy treat­ments be­cause of the de­lays.

The 18-year-old grad­u­ate of Nel­son High School died Jan. 20, 2016, fight­ing for bet­ter ac­cess to the treat­ment she never got.

“Laura’s ad­vo­cacy will help a lot of oth­ers,” said her mom, Frances Hil­lier. “I’m re­ally happy that there is at­ten­tion to this and in the bud­get there is a fo­cus on this.”

Hil­lier sits on a pro­vin­cial con­sult group that had a role in se­cur­ing $30 mil­lion in new fund­ing for stem cell trans­plants a year ago.

Ten mil­lion dol­lars of that went di­rectly to the Ju­ravin­ski Hospi­tal and Can­cer Cen­tre for a ded­i­cated unit with 15 in-pa­tient and five out­pa­tient beds.

A $3.5-mil­lion fundraiser is un­der­way to build and equip the new unit, headed by the foun­da­tion.

“I’m re­ally happy with the progress,” said Hil­lier. “I’m pleased that the Min­istry of Health has con­tin­ued com­mit­ting to cor­rect­ing this prob­lem in the prov­ince. If we carry on the way we have been the last year or so we’re go­ing to have some re­ally great im­prove­ment and great care for pa­tients.”

Laura was a promis­ing ac­tress and singer who had been ac­cepted to Brock Uni­ver­sity to ful­fil her dream of be­com­ing a drama, French and bi­ol­ogy teacher, when the acute myel­oge­nous leukemia she had beat in 2010 re­turned about two years ago.

She had a donor and was ready for a trans­plant in July 2015, but wait lists were up to three months long in Hamil­ton.

Afraid she would die be­fore get­ting the treat­ment, she pub­licly raised alarm about the de­lay.

When she re­lapsed, she made her mother prom­ise she would not die in vain.

Her story had a pro­found ef­fect, with the wait now down to be­tween four to six weeks at Ju­ravin­ski.

“We’ve in­creased the num­ber of pa­tients re­ceiv­ing trans­plant by a lot,” said can­cer cen­tre CEO Dr. Ralph Meyer. “It has been a very good team, who have worked ex­tremely hard. We’ve been for­tu­nate to be able to re­cruit some new staff, ex­tended hours and re­designed some of the pro­cesses.”

He doesn’t know yet how much money Hamil­ton will get from the new fund­ing set out in the bud­get. But he plans to use it to con­tinue to in­crease the num­ber of pa­tients get­ting trans­plants, as well as re­cruit a hema­tol­o­gist.

Meyer hopes it will mean On­tario can stop send­ing pa­tients to the United States for faster treat­ment.

“We have not re­solved the out-of-coun­try as­pect yet,” he said. “It’s been re­duced, but it has not been elim­i­nated. Ob­vi­ously we want On­tario cit­i­zens to have a trans­plant in On­tario.”

The ex­tra money Hamil­ton has re­ceived so far has upped the to­tal num­ber of stem cell trans­plants to 194 a year from 138 four years ago. The spe­cific type of trans­plant Laura needed is now up to 73 a year, from 50.

“We’ve re­duced the wait­ing list and that’s im­por­tant,” said Meyer. But “the num­ber of pa­tients who would ben­e­fit from a trans­plant con­tin­ues to in­crease, so we need to gain ca­pac­ity.”

HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR FILE PHOTO

Laura Hil­lier died Jan. 20, 2016, fight­ing for bet­ter ac­cess to the treat­ment she never got. The new fund­ing will help oth­ers on a short­ened wait list.

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