May 29, 2014 6:09 pm

‘It can’t be good to walk around with a hole in your head’: Alberta man waiting for surgery

Watch above: Just as David Whenham finished a battle with cancer, his struggle with Alberta’s health care system began. As Fletcher Kent explains, he’s living with a hole in his face.

EDMONTON – An Alberta man who has been living with a growing hole in the right side of his face for two-and-a-half years is calling for changes to the province’s health care system.

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“When it started, I mean, you could hardly see it as a hole. And now it’s monstrous,” says David Whenham. “It just kept growing.”

The Pigeon Lake man’s medical troubles began about three years ago when he was diagnosed with sinus cancer. The 64-year-old underwent chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.

Then, in August 2011, he had a revolutionary jaw surgery to reconstruct his face.

“After that operation I developed a small hole on the side of my nose,” he explains. “That’s where the radiation and the chemotherapy was concentrated when I had cancer in my sinuses.”

Whenham has had four or five surgeries scheduled over the past two years, but all of them have been cancelled. He says he’s been given several different reasons as to why the surgeries were cancelled, but it all boils down to one thing.

“You don’t have cancer, so this is reconstruction; that’s classed as cosmetic.”

Whenham covers the hole with gauze and does his best to keep the area clean, but he worries about infection.

“All I have to do is take this out and you can see all the way to the back of my brain… well, the front of the brain.

“It can’t be good to walk around with a hole in your head.”

Alberta Health Services (AHS) says it understands Whenham’s frustrations and apologizes to him and his family for the delay. While AHS can’t speak specifically to Whenham’s case, it says sometimes less urgent operations have to be rescheduled.

“A level of urgency for a surgical patient is assigned by the surgeon. Following that assessment, cases are done on a priority basis. If a surgeon believes a case is urgent, that surgery will be done on a priority basis,” AHS says.

“While reconstructive surgery is important, urgent and potentially life-saving surgeries have to take priority.”

Recently Whenham learned his cancer had returned, so he will be getting his surgery after all. While news of the surgery is encouraging, Whenham says his quality of life has dramatically decreased over the past few years.

“As a cancer patient and survivor I have no choice, I have to adapt to what I’m given. And I may not like it, but I don’t like being miserable,” he says. “It’s just my nature not to dwell on misery too much…but the people it really hurts are the people who have to live with you.”

He also believes his situation is just one piece of a much bigger problem with Alberta’s health care system.

“I think it’s incredibly primitive,” he says. “Where is the service? There is no service. This is a public health care service and it’s not working. It has to be reviewed top to bottom.

“I can’t help thinking, and my family can’t help thinking, that had this operation taken place earlier, would the cancer have developed?”

A spokesperson for Alberta’s Health Minister says Fred Horne is aware of Whenham’s case and is watching it closely, but is leaving the senior’s care decisions to his surgeons.

With files from Fletcher Kent, Global News.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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