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Saskatchewan neurologist Dr. Jose Tellez remembered as a driving force for change

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WATCH: With many patients waiting years for treatment, Dr. Jose Tellez paved the way for a dedicated epilepsy unit in Saskatchewan – Oct 5, 2020

Becky Findlay, a Regina woman and mother of two, has been seizure-free now for 18 months, after undergoing surgery last April.

“It feels like normal life again. I’m able to be the parent I always wanted to be,” Findlay said.

Through it all, Findlay said it wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work and dedication of Dr. Jose Tellez.

Read more: Inside Epilepsy: Patients turn to brain surgery for treatment

“You could tell right from the start that this wasn’t just a job, it was his passion,” Findlay said. “He wanted to make an impact and change Saskatchewan for patients such as me.”

For more than a decade, Tellez lobbied the provincial government to build a dedicated epilepsy unit. But on Friday, he passed away before seeing his dream become a reality.

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“It’s a huge loss to Saskatchewan. It’s not going to be the same,” Findlay said.

With more than 10,000 people living with epilepsy, Saskatchewan is currently the only province without a dedicated unit. Patients can wait up to two years for treatment. In Becky’s case, she waited for six years.

“He really cared. When you were in his office it was like talking to a family member who happened to be a doctor,” said Becky’s dad, John Nelson.

“He was kind, you could tell he was very persistent. He was a pioneer in his field and he was so positive. He was the driving force and hopefully other people will come along side, pick up the pieces and run with it.”

Read more: ‘It just feels like they’re not listening’: Sask. only province without dedicated seizure unit

In a Facebook post, the Mexican Association of Epilepsy expressed their condolences, saying Tellez was a teacher in epilepsy who opened roads and built bridges where they did not exist.

Last August, the provincial government announced $1.3 million in operational costs for a dedicated epilepsy unit, with the Royal University Hospital Foundation (RUHF) fundraising the initial costs.

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In an interview with Global News on Aug. 19, 2019, Tellez called it, “a historical day for epilepsy patients in the province.”

“Patients are going to be investigated properly, on time and we are not going to delay any more epilepsy surgeries,” Tellez said.

Read more: ‘It’s a historical day’: Sask. government funding gives epilepsy patients hope

In a statement to Global News, the RUHF provided an update on the unit and said planning is well underway.

“Our foundation was saddened to hear of Dr. Tellez’s passing on Friday. Over the past ten years we have worked closely with Dr. Tellez and his team in the Provincial Saskatchewan Epilepsy Program. Most recently, RUHF raised $1.2 million through the generosity of donors for a dedicated Epilepsy Monitoring Unit at RUH, for epilepsy patients who may be a candidate for surgery,” RUHF CEO Arla Gustafson said in the statement.

The unit is slated for completion in 2021, but an exact timeline has yet to be confirmed.

According to the University of Saskatchewan, Tellez came to Canada in 2003, where he enrolled in two fellowships.

In 2007, he started working as an assistant professor at the division of neurology-department of medicine in 2009 and became a full professor in 2013.

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While his university biography lists a number of accomplishments, it said the most important achievement by Tellez was the creation of an epilepsy program for complex patients with epilepsy in Saskatchewan.

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