Saskatchewan organ transplant patients still waiting for surgeries

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Saskatchewan organ transplant patients still waiting for surgeries
WATCH: Public health orders are gone but the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are still being felt in Saskatchewan, especially in hospitals and by those waiting for life-saving surgery – Mar 16, 2022

Two women who need new kidneys desperately, after months of waiting, still don’t know if they’ll get them.

Eden Janzen, 25, is plagued by health issues, including a recent tumour, a broken leg and problems with her parathyroid.

In a few months’ time she’ll have been receiving dialysis for five years.

Read more: More people in Saskatchewan died waiting for surgery during COVID-19 than before: data

“It’s bigger than my birthday… everyone actually shows up for that (celebration),” she said.

“It’s my dial-a-versary.”

Jessica Bailey’s diagnosis is simpler but it’s also worse. She’s 36 and has been receiving dialysis for three years.

Her doctors told her five months ago that she is palliative, meaning she likely has less than a year to live.

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They were on the waiting list for a transplant last year, but in September the Saskatchewan Health Authority postponed all transplant operations so staff could be reassigned to help with the fourth COVID-19 wave.

Janzen’s and Bailey’s health declined since then and they’ve both no longer on the list.

“The longer we wait, the worse my health gets,” Bailey said.

“And the worse my health gets, the less likely (I am) to be on the list.”

You need to be healthy enough to receive a transplant to be on the list.

Bailey needed months to recover from complications from a day surgery.

Janzen now needs her parathyroid removed before she can get a new kidney.

Read more: COVID-19 state of emergency order ends in Saskatchewan

The organ transplant program has resumed and the Saskatchewan government has announced plans increase surgery capacity — including activating a new radiology unit in Regina’s Pasqua Hospital on Tuesday.

A statement says the new suite will allow for 1,000 more surgeries a year, which will help to lower wait times in Regina.

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But the backlog is still substantial.

Speaking outside of question period on Tuesday, health minister Paul Merriman told reporters around 35,000 surgeries were still backlogged — though he said the SHA had cleared 90 per cent of the surgeries that had been delayed earlier.

He said Janzen and Bailey should contact their doctors.

“I would encourage them to work their physicians or their healthcare team to be able to get them the information that they need on when their procedure could possibly be scheduled,” he said.

In November government officials stated 26,000 surgeries were postponed between March 15, 2020 an Oct. 9, 2021.

In an update provided to Global News on Tuesday, the health ministry said 31,000 fewer total procedures had taken place between March 15, 2020 and Feb. 19, 2022 than during a similar period before the pandemic. That count includes elective (non-emergency) procedures.

In a statement, ministry spokesperson Jennifer Graham said the ministry doesn’t keep track of whether specific patients, whose surgery was postponed, had now received their surgery.

Read more: Declared COVID-19 outbreaks in Saskatchewan

She also said 119 people are currently on the wait list for a kidney transplant.

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Both Janzen and Bailey said they haven’t heard anything about when they might get back on the waiting list. But even when they do, it means more waiting for surgery.

“With the wait times, what they are right now, it’s really, really hard for people like me that need the lifesaving surgery and (to) even get healthy enough to get it,” Bailey said.

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