Manitobans fly to Germany for back surgery

Dozens of Manitobans are spending thousands of dollars flying to Germany for a type of back surgery unavailable in North America.

Dozens of Manitobans are spending thousands of dollars flying to Germany for a type of back surgery unavailable in North America.

The disc replacement operation uses titanium discs, which are not approved by the Health Canada or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

As such, Manitoba Health doesn't cover the cost, so those who have chosen to have the operation must pay for it themselves.

One of them, Howard Braun, is a long-distance trucker whose back pain at times prevented him from working. During one road trip, he was forced to abandon his rig and fly home.

Braun, from Altona, decided to foot the $47,000 bill and go to Germany after twice having surgery in Canada that never solved the problem.

Communities help fundraise

Braun says the surgery in Germany was well worth the cost, but he would never have been able to do it without $30,000 raised by his community.

"I can only imagine for somebody that didn't have the resources or the community and friends standing behind them … they just have to lay in bed and be on medication. And I know people that are," he said.

According to Malte Pederson, international spokesperson for Stenum Spine, the company that offers the procedure, about 65 Manitobans have had the surgery.

'I can walk. I can sit. I can carry my grandkids. My quality of life has just been great.'—Sharon Kehler

Most of them are from smaller towns that have helped raise money through community events and local churches.

That's how Sharon Kehler of Grunthal managed to make the trip to Germany.

She had back pain for so long that she had become addicted to morphine and OxyContin. It seemed that prescription painkillers were the only things Manitoba Health was willing to supply to help her endure the discomfort, she said.

A spokesperson for the province said Manitoba Health will not cover out-of-country back treatments unless patients have approval based on a referral from their local spine specialist.

Kehler, 50, decided to get her life back on track and pay for permanent pain relief. The surgery has changed her life, she said.

"I can walk. I can sit. I can carry my grandkids," she said. "My quality of life has just been great."