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Life saving surgery on hold for North Bay man, as COVID patients flood Toronto hospital

'I'm at the bottom of the list, so to speak'

A North Bay businessman is anxiously awaiting a kidney transplant from his step-daughter that will save his life, but his frustration is growing as COVID patients pack hospitals and delay surgeries.

"The un-vaccinated make up 90 per cent of those patients in Toronto General," says Annette Lalonde, wife of Paul who is waiting for the surgery.

Paul needs a kidney to stay alive and both his step-daughters have stepped up to offer theirs. 

The story starts when Paul and his wife Annette were vacationing in Florida in 2018 and he came down with a serious infection that resulted in sepsis. It attacked his major organs causing renal failure and a massive heart attack among other complications.

After 22 days in ICU, the couple returned home to North Bay with Paul's health still extremely fragile. He immediately started dialysis at North Bay Regional Health Centre which became his lifeline. The treatment is basically life support. Go off it, you die. A couple of times Paul wanted to quit, but Annette says "he stuck with it."

A date was scheduled for pre-op work but then the family got a call saying the hospital didn't have room for non-emergency surgeries as staff was redeployed to cover the COVID patients in the intensive care unit (ICU). They were told that kidney transplants were not considered life-saving or urgent because Paul can be on dialysis. That's the clinical purification of blood as a substitute for the normal function of the kidney.

"Dialysis only works for a certain length of time," explains Annette. "It gets to a point where it's no longer working."

Paul added, "All the cases are being triaged." That meant surgeries were assigned degrees of urgency.

"People in life-threatening situations are first priority, second is children on dialysis, thirdly people who are about to go on dialysis. Then you have people who are getting a kidney from a deceased patient and if they don't do that surgery the kidney will spoil within 48 hours."

Last in line are people like Paul who are getting kidneys from live donors, in this case, step-daughter Jenna.

"I'm at the bottom of the list, so to speak," says Paul.

See: Daughters' love will save the life of well-known North Bay business owner

Pre-COVID, live donors like Paul and Jenna were at the top of the list because there was lots of surgery time.

"The ORs (operating rooms) are deploying their staff to emergency services and ICUs. The hospitals have been overwhelmed with ICU COVID patients, the vast majority are un-vaccinated...the young and the un-vaccinated are causing the problem in the Toronto area," a doctor told Paul.

So Paul waits with no surgery date in sight.

"It's indefinite for the time being," he states.

An email from the hospital said, "We are proceeding with medically urgent transplants at this time. Right now the main issue impacting our program activity is in-patient unit staffing levels and we've been asked to keep our living donor volumes low."

It's not the first set-back for Paul.

Prior to COVID he was a candidate for a double kidney-pancreas transplant from a deceased donor.

"Then COVID hit and everything got put on hold," says Annette. "During that time his health deteriorated and he required open-heart quadruple bypass surgery. Following his surgery, he was no longer a candidate for a deceased donor for a double transplant because of his heart surgery."

So the kidney from stepdaughter Jenna is Paul's "final lifeline."

"There's a lot of disappointment," says Paul about the emotional impact of the delay. "And I'm really angry that the people that are causing this are the young un-vaccinated...the people that refuse. They're thinking of themselves, they're not thinking of all the emotional turmoil they're putting thousands of families through. In Canada, there have been 900,000 surgeries that have been put off according to my Toronto surgeon.

"There is a vaccine, but people are refusing. Why?"

Annette thinks Paul is being kind and understating the effect that the roller-coaster journey has had.

"I've been watching him. We were all devastated."

Jenna agrees. " Of course, we're devastated. We thought we saw the light at the end of the tunnel then it got taken away again. It's been a serious roller-coaster. Initially, you couldn't blame anyone, the timing was bad with COVID. But now," she sighs, "It's hurtful that people think that they're so above being sick. While people are getting sick and taken care of, we get put on the backburner."

"I'm afraid that my husband's health is deteriorating after four years of dialysis," says Annette. "The longer you are on, the more it takes from you. I feel so sorry for Jenna because she was so psyched up emotionally. This is a very major and difficult thing for her to do and now she has to sit back and pray that Paul lives long enough to get our next date."

"What I'm afraid of is that my condition will deteriorate to a point where transplants will no longer be an option, and it's coming up really fast," admits Paul. "Three of five people in dialysis die waiting for a kidney."

The family is begging people to get vaccinated.

"It's causing lots of heartaches. The nurses are overworked like you would not believe. The doctors are also and it's only getting worse. I see how hard the nurses work, it's unbelievable. Everybody's burned out. I see it firsthand."

See related. 'You don't want to see people having to do their dialysis in a closet' as renal unit expansion campaign ramps up

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Jeff Turl

About the Author: Jeff Turl

Jeff is a veteran of the news biz. He's spent a lengthy career in TV, radio, print and online, covering both news and sports. He enjoys free time riding motorcycles and spoiling grandchildren.
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