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Coronavirus: Ottawa man denied time with dying parents after testing delays

Son denied access to dying parents due to COVID-19 test delays
WATCH: Craig Conoley was initially told he didn’t meet the qualifications to test for COVID-19 and that kept him away from his dying parents, including his mother who passed away. Kamil Karamali reports.

An Ottawa man is calling on the government to make COVID-19 testing kits more accessible, after he was unable to see his dying parents because he didn’t meet testing criteria and had to remain in self-isolation.

“The system has failed my family, the government has failed my family,” said Craig Conoley in an interview with Global News.

Conoley is the primary caregiver for his parents, both of whom were diagnosed with deadly illnesses.

His father, Rodney, suffered from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, while his mother was diagnosed with an aggressive type of cancer called glioblastoma.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: How rapid testing kits could lead to more targeted screenings

Conoley said he was a month or two away from going under the knife to donate his liver to his father. Then the pandemic hit, throwing everything off balance.

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“When the pandemic hit, that mountain… it turned into Everest,” said Conoley. “And I’m like, ‘oh my god, how am I going to climb this thing now?'”

On top of that, Conoley started feeling flu-like symptoms and didn’t want to spend any time around his parents or commit to giving his liver to his father until he was certain he didn’t have the novel coronavirus.

So he went to get tested at Ottawa’s Brewer Park Arena and was shocked to find out that he didn’t meet the criteria.

READ MORE: Canada may be missing thousands of coronavirus cases, experts say

“They also said that other people in that same situation would continue to get turned away, and I thought, ‘why is there a vulnerable part of the community, like myself and others that may not be getting these tests?'”

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After advocating for his cause online and reaching out to local politicians and Ottawa Public Health, Conoley said he was finally given the green light for the test over a week later under ‘special circumstances.’

But during that one-week waiting period, his father suffered a life-threatening medical complication and needed immediate surgery.

Conoley couldn’t go in to see his father, since he hadn’t gotten his test results back and needed to remain in self-isolation.

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“It was extremely difficult and heartbreaking,” said Conoley.

READ MORE: Bedridden for days, young Canadians with COVID-19 say illness is ‘no joke’

Then, after conducting the COVID-19 test and waiting another week for the results to come back, Conoley’s mother’s cancer rapidly progressed.

He was granted an hour with her at her bedside under ‘compassionate grounds.’

“I kissed her on the forehead and said ‘mom, I’ll see you, I love you,'” Conoley said through tears.

“She said, ‘why are you crying?’ and I said, ‘it’s okay, mom, it’s okay’ and I said ‘I love you’ and then she said ‘I love you’ and then went back down.”

Conoley’s mother died on March 26.

He was given his test results five days later, which came back negative.

In the time Conoley was first rejected from conducting the COVID-19 test to when he finally got his negative test results, he had lost a mother and nearly lost his father.

He said he feels like he was robbed of his final days with his mother.

“I feel like not only those days were stolen, but I also feel like I lost the ability to say goodbye to my mother,” said Conoley.

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“That’s trauma, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get over that,” he said. “This has been incredibly stressful and trying psychologically.”

Conoley is joining the chorus of voices that have been critical of the federal government for a lack of testing kits and a stringent criteria to get tested for COVID-19.

He hopes the application process softens up so no one else is deprived of time with their loved ones.

Meanwhile, Conoley’s father, Rodney, remains in hospital awaiting a liver donor.

“Nothing has been easy,” said Rodney. “It’s been hurdles and challenge after challenge, but we’ve been very resilient and really strong.”