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Brain cyst surgery not elective, should be funded: Forsyth

CALGARY, AB (May 1, 2014): Alberta Health Services’ Out of Country Services Committee should apply fair and consistent funding to Albertans who need brain cyst surgery in the United States, Wildrose Health Critic Heather Forsyth said today.

According to news reports, 11-year-old Wetaskawin resident Mikayla Curran is suffering acute blindness, severe headaches and chronic fatigue due to a pineal gland cyst in her brain. The surgery to remove the cyst is proven to work but isn’t available in Canada. And the committee has approved the procedure for funding in some cases but not others. Forsyth said AHS should be consistent in providing reimbursement for this operation.

“We’ve seen this committee approve funding for this surgery in the case of Dylan Nielsen in Airdrie, but deny it in the case of Shane Wambolt in Fort McMurray,” Forsyth said. “Once they deemed this surgery necessary – once they opened that door – there was no going back. This committee needs to be clear with Mikayla and all Albertans that if you need this procedure done, you’ll be able to get it done and you won’t have to pay out of pocket for it. The fact is this surgery is not elective at all. It is essential and life-saving. It seems the government is picking winners and losers in health care.”

Tyler Nielsen, Dylan’s father, said the surgery saved Dylan’s life. He agreed there’s nothing elective about it.

“Dylan was on 28 seizure medications per day. He was unable to feed himself or be in the sunlight,” Nielsen said. “The U.S. doctors gave him three weeks to live by the time we got him down there, and after surgery it was like night and day. We went to the beach. He got off medication completely. Now, he’s getting his mortgage brokers license.”

Mikayla’s parents, Sheldon and Angela, said they’ve done their due diligence and applied for funding through the appropriate channels but don’t trust the government’s process after Wambolt was made to pay $250,000 out of pocket only to be denied five times for reimbursement. (The committee denied Wambolt’s reimbursement application five times.)

“The government’s track record hasn’t been very good,” Sheldon said. “We don’t know if Mikayla will be approved for funding and that’s added a lot of stress to an already stressful situation. We’re trying to raise the money in our community right now. The process is broken.”

Wambolt received his surgery in 2010. Since then, he said his symptoms have gone away and he’s working again. He said the surgery saved his life.  

“I was dying a painful death, and now I’m working and living my life again,” he said. “I remember looking into my son’s eyes with what vision I had left and thinking he would not have a father anymore. This surgery is not elective. It’s truly a life and death situation. It feels like this committee and Health Minister Fred Horne are making the rules up as they go.”

All three families say they’re going to continue to advocate on behalf of all Albertans on this issue.

Forsyth said she’s calling on AHS’ Out of Country Services Committee to fully reimburse Wambolt and fund Mikayla’s surgery. She added Horne has an obligation to step-in, if the committee fails to support Albertans who need it.