In her 36 years living on the prairies, Jessica Bailey says now is the first time ever that she hasn’t been proud to live in Saskatchewan as she awaits an organ transplant from a program for which most new donations have been paused.
“I’m a palliative patient and time is not something I have,” said Bailey, a Saskatoon resident who was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease in 2018 and has been given less than a year to live without a transplant by her doctors
Bailey said at this point, she hasn’t been given a timeline for when she might receive a transplant.
“If they’re not harvesting from deceased donors then there is no list to be on,” she said.
“I don’t have time to wait. I want to know what the plan is, and when the suspension is going to be lifted. It takes away the only thing we ever had, which was hope. We’re dying individuals and you took away the light at the end of the tunnel.”
The Saskatchewan Health Authority paused the Saskatchewan Organ and Tissue Donation Program earlier this year “due to the significant increase in acute care and ICU patients, the strain this has put on our hospital resources, and the need to maintain our standards of care and support,” according to a supplied statement.
They say that in that time there have been “approximately 27 missed opportunities” for organ donation consults, though they note that not all consults result in a donation.
They add that as of the end of September, there were 51 patients on Saskatchewan’s kidney transplant wait list, and two patients awaiting a living donation organ.
They say, though, that while one procedure has been completed during slowdowns, living transplants are high-risk procedures and “COVID-19 has created additional complications and is drawing on needed resources for such a procedure,” though they say they continue to investigate urgent needs on a case-by-case basis.
They add “they’re not in a position” to comment on potential out-of-province care for transplant patients.
Bailey, meanwhile, had identified someone willing to donate a kidney before slowdowns began. She said, though, that the operation was delayed by slowdowns and since then that individual has been disqualified due to kidney stones.
“Now that I’m back to square one I don’t have any time,” she said.
She said she has “15 friends and family members” who want to begin analysis to see if they’re suitable to donate their own kidneys, but that the process is slow.
“From the time my donor and I were matched, it was about a year (until a procedure could be scheduled). It takes about a year with testing and whatever else from start to finish,” she explained.
“They only do one person at a time. So out of those 15 people there’s only one person at a time.”
Meanwhile, Bailey says that as time goes on, “the worse it gets”.
“I get more and more bedridden every day. Now I’m in a wheelchair because I can’t walk. My legs just ache, and so do my joints and everything,” she said.
“I feel betrayed by my government. Why are they not making the same efforts as they are for these, unvaccinated no less, COVID-19 patients? I feel completely betrayed. They were told by professionals this was going to happen and did nothing about it.”
Monday marked the third time during the current legislative session that the Saskatchewan NDP invited a patient affected by health-care service slowdowns into the chamber.
“”Will the premier commit today to do everything he can to get that program running again immediately to get Jessica the urgent, life-saving care he needs?” NDP leader Ryan Meili said during question period, with Bailey nodding in agreement from the outskirts of the chamber.
“This is the highest priority of the government, to get our surgical capacity back up. Not only to a place where we aren’t falling behind on the wait list that we have, but are ensuring that we have a plan in place to clear that wait list,” Moe said in response.
Following question period, Health Minister Paul Merriman was asked if he feels the suspension of the organ donation program could have been avoided if government has acted sooner to implement measures like a mask mandate.
In response, Merriman said the pandemic has forced the government to make difficult decisions that affect individuals like Bailey.
He reaffirmed recent announcements made by the province that 50 per cent of redeployed SHA workers would be back in their service areas at some point this week, and 90 per cent will be back by the end of the month.
“The majority will be back by the end of the month. We’re just getting the program details of what exactly those 50 per cent resources are that are going back, but obviously it’s a priority with what I mentioned the other day — with youth and children. They’re prioritized as well.”