Tod­dler faced year-plus wait – for a 15-minute surgery

The wait for sim­ple surgery fur­ther de­lays devel­op­ment of child with Down syn­drome

The Observer (Sarnia) - - FRONT PAGE - JONATHAN SHER

No one should wait more than a year for a 15-minute surgery to clear clogged ear chan­nels that leave a per­son ef­fec­tively deaf, least of all a tod­dler born with Down syn­drome.

So says a St. Thomas mother about her two-year-old daugh­ter, Sofia De Almeida. Sofia al­ready faces a long path to over­come ob­sta­cles that come with Down syn­drome, the most com­mon chro­mo­so­mal dis­or­der and a cause of learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties.

But when Pamela De Almeida found out her daugh­ter needed surgery so she could hear the words she needs to learn to re­peat, the mother was stunned when her fam­ily doc­tor told her it would take a full year to meet with a spe­cial­ist at Lon­don’s Vic­to­ria Hos­pi­tal.

That sort of wait would be bad for any­one, es­pe­cially since the surgery, De Almeida was told, would take only 15 min­utes. But it’s un­con­scionable for a tod­dler who al­ready faced a steeper hill learn­ing how to speak.

“It’s to­tally un­ac­cept­able,” De Almeida said. “Now, she is going to be put at a fur­ther dis­ad­van­tage.”

It’s not just lit­tle Sofia who faces ex­ceed­ingly long waits for ear, nose and throat surgery at the Lon­don re­gion’s largest hos­pi­tal. Chil­dren who were op­er­ated on in July at the Lon­don Health Sci­ences Cen­tre (LHSC) waited an av­er­age 193 days — the long­est wait in On­tario — after con­sult­ing with a sur­geon.

For chil­dren who had surgery from April to June, the wait to see a spe­cial­ist in Lon­don av­er­aged 72 days, pro­vin­cial data show.

If that was the same wait for chil­dren who saw a spe­cial­ist in July, Lon­don would have the long­est to­tal wait time in the prov­ince at 265 days, with the sec­ond-long­est, 245 days, at St. Thomas-El­gin Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal.

The wait in Lon­don and St. Thomas in July was about dou­ble the pro­vin­cial av­er­age of 133 days, and more than five times as long as the wait at Markham Stouffville Hos­pi­tal.

Even more dis­tress­ing for some, ac­tual wait times in Lon­don ap­pear to have grown longer than what is posted by Health Qual­ity On­tario — the wait for Sofia to see a spe­cial­ist was six times as much.

Asked about her wait and the im­pact on her devel­op­ment, an LHSC of­fi­cial said the hos­pi­tal is short a sur­geon and is try­ing to re­cruit an­other.

“We are work­ing with sys­tem part­ners, in­clud­ing ad­vanc­ing ef­forts to re­cruit an­other pe­di­atric ENT (ear, nose, throat) sur­geon,” the head of pe­di­atric surgery, Dr. Les­lie Scott, said in an email. “All re­fer­rals from the catch­ment area to pe­di­atric oto­laryn­gol­ogy are triaged based on clin­i­cal ur­gency, and hear­ing loss would in­crease pri­or­i­ti­za­tion.”

While wait times are long­est in Lon­don, there are long de­lays else­where, in­clud­ing at On­tario’s largest chil­dren’s hos­pi­tal, Toronto’s Hos­pi­tal for Sick Chil­dren. There kids who re­ceived surgery in July had waited 218 days since they were re­ferred to a spe­cial­ist.

But De Almeida isn’t fo­cused on sta­tis­tics. She’s too busy en­gag­ing with Sofia, so the tod­dler can let her know, for ex­am­ple, if she is hun­gry or tired.

The 34-year-old mother said she learned of Sofia’s hear­ing prob­lems when she took her to a speech ther­apy class in Jan­uary. Sofia couldn’t re­peat words be­cause she couldn’t hear them, and wasn’t re­spond­ing to calls of her own name.

Sub­se­quent hear­ing tests found Sofia couldn’t hear lowvol­ume sound, and even mod­er­ate and high-vol­ume sound was muf­fled.

Surgery to in­sert tubes would clear her ears, De Almeida said.

De Almeida went back to her fam­ily doc­tor and asked for re­fer­rals to all of the smaller hos­pi­tals near Lon­don, and will fi­nally see one this month in St. Thomas after a seven-month wait.

It’s not clear why Sofia wasn’t re­ferred to other area hos­pi­tals with sig­nif­i­cantly shorter wait times, like Blue­wa­ter Health in Sar­nia. Health Qual­ity On­tario made that data pub­lic on its wait site in Au­gust.

MIKE HENSEN/THE LON­DON FREE PRESS

Pamela De Almeida says a wait of more than a year for needed ear surgery for her daugh­ter Sofia, 2, who has Down syn­drome, is “to­tally un­ac­cept­able.”

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