British Columbia

B.C. mother anxiously awaits cleft lip surgery for her 3-month-old after COVID-19 cancelled it

In the past month, 13,938 non-urgent elective surgeries have been cancelled in B.C. to free up beds and resources for a possible surge in COVID-19 patients, including an operation for Andy Walsh’s son, a three-month-old baby boy who needs surgery for a cleft lip.

13,938 non-urgent surgeries cancelled in the past month

Andy Walsh is hoping a cleft lip operation for her three-month-old son, Torin, will be rescheduled in the next couple of months. (Andy Walsh)

In the past month, 13,938 non-urgent elective surgeries have been cancelled in B.C. to free up beds and resources for a possible surge in COVID-19 patients. 

One of those surgeries was for Andy Walsh's son, Torin, a three-month old baby boy in Kelowna who needs surgery for a cleft lip — a split or opening in the lip that creates complications for him while he's nursing. 

"When Torin eats he swallows a lot of air," Walsh told Radio West host Sarah Penton. 

The air makes Torin gassy, which makes him extremely uncomfortable, making both his and his parents' lives challenging. 

Walsh has tried different positions for nursing in an attempt to make it easier for Torin's lips to create a seal. She's also tried specialty bottles, but the only way he will eat creates all that extra air in his digestive system. 

Torin Walsh was born with a cleft lip, which makes it difficult for him to eat. (Andy Walsh)

The cancellation of Torin's surgery is a concern for Walsh and her husband, Tim, because according to HealthLink BC, the surgery to correct a cleft lip should be completed by the time a baby turns six months

"If you had asked me a month and a half ago about waiting I would have been like perfect because he's so adorable with his lips, and I am so in love with his face," Walsh said.  

On Friday, B.C.'s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced that some restrictions could be eased in May, including those affecting elective surgeries. 

In an emailed statement, the Ministry of Health said it will be working to resume non-urgent surgeries as soon as possible.

"We recognize this is a difficult time for this mother and her child as well as the thousands of other patients who have had their surgery postponed," it says. "In order to determine priority, all health authorities work with their surgeon partners to assign a priority code based on each patient's individual circumstances and needs.

Patients who have concerns about their postponement should contact their surgeon's office, and, in particular, if the patient believes there is a critical timeline."

In the meantime, Walsh is trying to cope with the situation by connecting with other parents of cleft lip babies on social media and taking drives so Torin can sleep. 

"We are surviving, but I don't want it to go too much longer for both the sleep deprivation aspect as well as his discomfort aspect," she said. "If it goes longer than five months my worries are that [it is] going to have long term effects on him physically."

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca

With files from Sarah Penton

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