B.C. man books knee, hip replacements in Mexico: ‘I can’t take any more chances here’

Click to play video: 'Port Alberni man going on “medical tourism” trip'
Port Alberni man going on “medical tourism” trip
A Vancouver Island man says he's travelling to Mexico and paying for his own knee surgery because the wait in B.C. is too long. Kristen Robinson reports – Dec 13, 2023

Bruce Gordon is “mad as hell and not going to take this anymore.”

The 70-year-old Port Alberni man quoted the famous line from the 1976 classic film Network Wednesday, as he spoke with Global News about his plans to fly to Mexico twice next year for surgeries.

Click to play video: 'Catching up to the elective surgery backlog'
Catching up to the elective surgery backlog

“I can’t take any more chances here, the longer I wait the more problems I am going to have,” he said.

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“I want to be in some kind of shape physically and mentally to get through the operation itself and then the recovery period. And we’re dealing with a lot of pain as well.”

In January, Gordon will see a private clinic in Puerto Vallarta to have a knee replacement, an operation he said will cost about $18,000, before living expenses for the two-month trip.

He plans to go back in November to have his left hip replaced.

He told Global News he made the difficult decision after a decade of waits and negative interactions with B.C.’s health-care system.

That history includes a two-year wait to have his right hip done in 2014, which he credits for the failure of his left hip and significant mental health challenges.

In 2018 he was told his knee needed to be replaced, but he said the one-year wait he was quoted dragged into two, and then longer when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out.

Click to play video: 'B.C. health officials not contracting surgeries to private clinics like other provinces'
B.C. health officials not contracting surgeries to private clinics like other provinces

He was offered a surgery in 2021, but turned it down because the COVID vaccine wasn’t available at the time and he feared for his health in a hospital.

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In April, he heard a news interview with a woman in a similar situation, who said every day she waited a piece of her died.

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“That hit home with me, big time, because not only do I have pain issues, but I suffer from depression and I suffer from anxiety issues,” he said.

“And being stuck in that type of situation the first time around brought me to my knees.”

That led him to research medical tourism and settle on the procedure in Puerto Vallarta.

But while he’s now confident in his decision, Gordon said he’s compelled to speak out for others who are also in his situation.

“I do blame the government, and not just the provincial government — they happened to inherit this problem — and it’s gone on for three decades, and its just gotten worse and worse, COVID obviously exacerbated the problem,” he said.

“They send money from the federal government, but we are not attracting people into jobs like GPs and stuff.”

Click to play video: 'Sooke man worried Victoria OR closures will delay his hip surgery for years'
Sooke man worried Victoria OR closures will delay his hip surgery for years

Gordon said people are waiting “ridiculous” times to access MRIs and specialists, only to then be put on  long wait lists for surgeries.

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He argued the province should be helping pay for surgeries for people who do choose to leave the province to access them, arguing the price of a procedure in Mexico is likely cheaper than what the province spends to do them at home.

“I might send the bill to Mr. Dix,” he said. “He will laugh of course.”

Health Minister Adrian Dix said he couldn’t speak to individual cases, but defended his government’s work on cutting surgical wait times.

“We’ve made huge strides in B.C. on this very issue … We’ve gone from the bottom of the country to the top of the country on hip and knee replacements,” Dix said.

The health minister said the province has specifically focused funding and resources on orthopedic surgeries, and has prioritized patients who have waited the longest.

The province also managed to reduce its waitlist despite the effects of the pandemic, he said.

Click to play video: 'Surgeries postponed due to hospital staff shortage in Victoria'
Surgeries postponed due to hospital staff shortage in Victoria

According to Health Ministry statistics, as of Oct. 31 there were 9,161 people in B.C. waiting for a knee replacement surgery provincewide.

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Between August and November of this year, the province reports, 90 per cent of cases were completed within just over 14 months, though there were major variations between hospitals and surgeons.

There were 4,859 people waiting for hip replacements, and over the same time period the ministry reports 90 per cent of cases were completed within just over 11 months, with similar variations between hospitals and surgeons.

“The public health care system has responded significantly on surgeries,” Dix said.

“That being said, I don’t think people who are concerned or are waiting here in B.C. care much what the waiting lists are in Ontario, or Quebec or New Brunswick, so we’ve got to continue to do better.”

The health minister’s assessment of the province’s system and his promises to do more didn’t carry much weight with Gordon, who told Global News he doesn’t think Dix or the health authority executives “get it.”

“What I would like to do is see a specialist within six months, and have the operation within six months — then people can get back on their feet again, they can pay their taxes, go back to work, and enjoy life,” he said.

“They euthanize suffering animals. But people — they leave us with our tongues hanging out of our mouths and no matter what you do and what you say it doesn’t get you anywhere.”

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