British Columbia

B.C. teen paralyzed after 27-month wait for surgery

B.C.'s Provincial Health Services Authority failed two Okanagan teens who desperately needed spinal surgery, including one who is now a paraplegic, according to a new report.

Family gave up on provincial health system and got boy spinal operation in U.S.

Walid Waitkus's spinal-curvature condition steadily worsened as he waited for surgery. (Family photo)

The Provincial Health Services Authority failed two Okanagan teens who desperately needed spinal surgery, including one who is now paralyzed from the waist down, according to a report from the B.C. Patient Care Quality Review Board.

The report referred primarily to the case of Walid Khalfallah, of Kelowna, who was diagnosed in 2004 with a spinal-curvature condition called kyphosis. At that time, the curvature in his upper spine measured 53 degrees.

In 2009, when Khalfallah was 13, his doctor insisted the boy's condition required immediate attention.

The review board report said it took 27 months before he got a date for surgery, but before that date arrived, Khalfallah's family had given up on the B.C. system, and sought help at the Shriners' Hospital in Spokane, Wash.

By that time, the curvature had more than doubled to 127 degrees and Khalfallah had to spend 10 weeks in traction before undergoing a 10-hour operation.

"We had done so many things to try and expedite him being seen and nothing seemed to make a difference," his mother, Debbie Waitkus, told CBC News.

"Everywhere I went I was crying because I thought my son isn't going to survive this and nobody's listening to me."

Government acknowledges failure

An assistant deputy minister from the provincial Health Ministry acknowledged in a letter to Waitkus dated Oct. 5 that her son was inadequately served.

"I would like to express my sincere regret for your family's very difficult experience with our province's health system," the letter said.

The report also cited the case of George Webb, of Vernon, who had a spinal condition requiring urgent surgery.

"As we were nearing two years on the waiting list, we had a very brief meeting with the surgeon who told us it could be another 18 months," said his mother, Donna Webb.

Webb eventually also abandoned the B.C. health system and was provided surgery at the Shriners Hospital in 2009, when he was 19. The operation was a success.

The board concluded that the Health Authority failed both teens, and found it had allowed Waitkus's condition to deteriorate unnecessarily.


  • Walid Kalfallah spent 10 weeks in traction prior to his surgery. An earlier version of the story said he spent 10 months in traction.
    Oct 11, 2012 11:50 PM PT

With files from the CBC's Brady Strachan and Christina Low