Montreal girl recovering from rare brain tumour misses medical appointment after passport delay

A 12-year-old Montreal girl recovering from a rare, benign brain tumour is hoping to get her passport renewed in time for her medical appointment in the U.S., months after her mother filed her application.

Service Canada took months to follow up on the file, mother says

A nurse poses beside a young patient.
Gabriella Segal-Dowers, right, is being followed by specialists at the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. (Submitted by Kim Segal)

Gabriella Segal-Dowers, 12, is counting the days until her much needed medical appointment. But whether she'll go depends on her passport arriving in time.

She was diagnosed in September 2021 with craniopharyngioma — a rare, benign brain tumour located near the pituitary gland, which nearly cost her her eyesight.

To receive proton therapy, a treatment that isn't offered in Canada, Gabriella joined a program at the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, in Memphis, Tennessee, which focuses on researching the specific tumour.

But passport processing delays caused her to miss her first follow-up appointment on Aug. 22.

"I never imagined that I would go through something like that," said Gabriella, who, in the past year, lost her peripheral vision, endured surgery to remove the tumour and missed nearly a year of school to recover. "I thought it was a dream because this doesn't seem real."

Her next appointment in Tennessee is on Nov. 20.

"It's like torture by water drops," said Gabriella's mother Kim Segal, describing the difficulty to secure her daughter's passport in time for the appointment.

"When you go through something so devastating as your child having a brain tumour, …every other added stress is just another drop. It makes life very hard."

Health-related travel is urgent

For all urgent passport applications, including those for Canadians travelling for health-related reasons, applicants must submit their documents to a passport office that offers urgent (by the end of the next business day) or express (two to nine business days) services, according to Service Canada. They must also provide proof of travel.

But Segal applied for the passport in person on June 30, and her receipt from that day says to expect the passport in six weeks.

Gabriella has been undergoing radiation therapy since her surgery and takes three to four medications per day. (Submitted by Kim Segal)

After a handful of Service Canada representatives confirmed the file was still pending, she says one representative told her on Oct. 5 to request for the application to be transferred to the Guy-Favreau passport office.

Another representative got back to Segal on Nov. 3 only to inform her that the file was incomplete.

"I was just flabbergasted that it took them this long to tell me that I was missing these documents, to even open the file five months later," Segal said. "It's shameful."

Service Canada told CBC additional documents were needed to process the passport application.

"[The transfer request on Oct. 5] will ensure the application is processed in time for the client's travel," said a spokesperson for Service Canada in an email after CBC inquired about the file.

"We regret that the uncertainty and lack of clarity around this application resulted in such a difficult situation for this Canadian."

Segal was finally able to pick up the passport on Monday, Nov. 14.

Gabriella says all she wants is to make it to her appointment.

"It's urgent for me to go because I would do it here if they had all my documents saved from my last appointment, but they don't," she said.

"I want to know that everything is OK, and my brain is OK. I worry about it a lot."


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