Toddler faced year-plus wait – for a 15-minute surgery
The wait for simple surgery further delays development of child with Down syndrome
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.
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.”