N.B. man calls for hyperbaric oxygen care in province as hospital in N.S. is overwhelmed

Click to play video: 'N.B. cancer survivor struggling due to lack of oxygen therapy treatment'
N.B. cancer survivor struggling due to lack of oxygen therapy treatment
A Shediac man is confronting potentially life-threatening complications from radiation damage that he sustained during cancer treatments. As Suzanne Lapointe reports, Jeff Leblanc is facing an 18-month wait for the hyperbaric oxygen treatment that he requires – which is forcing him to make a tough decision. – Apr 19, 2024

A Shediac, N.B., man is paying out of pocket for treatment his doctors say he needs to treat the side effects of radiation therapy he received while undergoing treatment for cancer.

Jeff Leblanc was diagnosed with Stage 4 oral squamous cell carcinoma, a form of cancer, in 2013.

He underwent 38 radiation treatments as part of his cancer treatment.

He said he’s experienced negative side effects from that radiation therapy — including losing his teeth and having part of his jaw lock up — starting in 2015 and progressing over the years.

“When your gums are starting to split up and your teeth are getting loose … that’s a sign of radiation damage,” he said.

In 2019, Leblanc’s doctors referred him to receive hyperbaric oxygen therapy at the QEII hospital in Halifax — across the border in Nova Scotia.

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That hospital is the only publicly funded option for this treatment in the Maritimes.

A spokesperson for the QEII hospital told Global News in a statement that the treatment of “radiation injuries from past cancer treatments” is one of the most common reasons people seek hyperbaric oxygen therapy at their facility.

Leblanc underwent 40 treatments over several weeks in 2020, and said he and his doctors saw a positive impact on his health.

“I started feeling much better. My gums were getting better. Even my periodontist asked me if I would go for more as maintenance,” he said.

Leblanc was feeling better until March of this year, when he noticed pieces of bone coming out of his mouth.

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In mid-April, his doctor diagnosed him with osteoradionecrosis, a rare side effect of radiation treatment that can be potentially fatal.

“That’s when he said we need to send you for more (hyperbaric oxygen) treatments because anything else is not going to work,” Leblanc said.

His doctor referred him to MedicaLux, a private health clinic in Moncton that offers the treatment, thinking Leblanc could be reimbursed by Medicare.

Leblanc said his doctor referred him there because of the 12- to 18-month wait he could face waiting to be treated at the QEII.

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Click to play video: 'N.B. cancer survivor advocating for affordable cancer care in Ottawa'
N.B. cancer survivor advocating for affordable cancer care in Ottawa

When Leblanc went to MedicaLux in mid-April, staff at the clinic told him Medicare wouldn’t cover the $17,000 bill for the 40 rounds of treatment he needs.

Leblanc is ready to pay any price for the chance to see his two children grow up.

“I’ll do whatever it takes! I’ll go take a loan, I’ll max my credit cards!” Leblanc said on Friday.

“But I just find … I don’t understand how they can send you to Halifax and it’s OK. But it’s right in your backyard and it’s ‘Sorry, can’t help you.'”

He has already started treatment at MedicaLux.

“People with cancer and their families should not have to deal with the additional stress of having to determine how they will pay for or access their treatment when it’s not available in their province or territory,” the Canadian Cancer Society said in a statement.

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“Because hyperbaric oxygen therapy is not available in all centres, it can mean people may have to travel to receive care, or pay out of pocket, which is not always an option.”

Nova Scotia Health said Monday that multiple factors such as staff shortages, treatment capacity reductions related to COVID-19 and increased demand due to the population increase in the Maritimes, are contributing to long wait times.

Emergency situations that require the treatment, like carbon monoxide poisoning, require one to four treatments, while most treatments for chronic conditions like Leblanc’s require 40 treatments.

As such, only 40 patients can receive treatment for chronic conditions annually.

“The current hyperbaric chamber is now over 40 years old. It undergoes regular and emergency maintenance as required, but due to its age and size, the increasing need for hyperbaric oxygen therapy in the Maritimes, as well as our increasing population, we are no longer able to meet the needs of Maritimers in a reasonable time frame,” the statement from Nova scotia Health read.

A new hyperbaric medicine unit is scheduled to be built as part of the hospital’s expansion project, with a completion date of “2028 at the earliest.”

New Brunswick’s Health Department told Global News it was not able to provide a statement in time for deadline.

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Leblanc has received over $20,000 in aid via a GoFundMe campaign and will be able to pay out of pocket for the treatment at MedicaLux.

He takes issue with the principle of the matter, saying he wants to raise awareness so others in his position aren’t forced to pay out of pocket.

“It’s just there’s the financial aspect … and then there’s the right thing to do. Money is just money,” he said.

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