Nfld. & Labrador

3-year surgery wait to help fix 10-lb hernia too long, patient says

St. John's resident Michael Fleet says he's had a serious hernia for two and a half years and has been forced to stop working because of it.

Warning: this story contains images that may be considered graphic

Surgery waitlist

7 years ago
Duration 1:34
Michael Fleet talks about his long wait for bariatric surgery and the risks it poses for his health.

A St. John's man says he's had a serious hernia for two and a half years and has been forced to stop working because of it, and a three-year wait for surgery to help his situation is seriously affecting his life.

Michael Fleet has had an umbilical hernia that he says forced his family doctor to take him off work. His physician referred him to a bariatric surgeon for gastric bypass surgery so he could lose enough weight to get the hernia fixed.

However, Fleet said there are 320 people ahead of him on the list and some of those cases aren't nearly as urgent as his.

I'm honestly worried about my health if it stays like it is much longer.- Michael Fleet

"My doctor has taken me off work and told me that [the hernia is] 10 pounds … this could kill me if I get hit the wrong way, if I pull something even more," said Fleet.

Fleet said when his doctor initially told him about the need to lose weight to fix the hernia, he got a gym membership and a trainer and lost 150 pounds, but when his physician ordered him to stop working he was no longer able to afford those costs.

"Now I got put on disability [and] I cannot work with this hernia at all, so I'm unable to pay a gym membership or a personal trainer now, or even a bus pass to get to a gym," said Fleet.

"The only way I can lose the weight now is unfortunately through the bariatric program."

'This is a horrible hernia'

Fleet said he has 90 to 100 pounds left to lose to get to the point that he'd be able to have the gastric bypass surgery and if he got that, the remaining weight should be lost within three months.

Michael Fleet says he's already lost 150 pounds, but says due to restrictions on his physical ability he needs gastric bypass to lose another 100 pounds before the hernia can be fixed. (CBC)

"I could have my hernia fixed, be recovered within a year," he said. 

However, the wait list for the bypass surgery is a long one and Fleet said Eastern Health doesn't prioritize cases, rather operates on a first come, first serve basis.

He's been petitioning Eastern Health and Health Minister Steve Kent to try and expedite his case and move up the wait list. Fleet said after talking about his case with Kent, he received a call from Eastern Health within three hours.

However, the response was he needed to visit his family doctor again and get him to advocate on his behalf to be moved up the surgery list — something he said isn't realistic.

"My family doctor is a great doctor, he has a lot of patients, he can't just concentrate on me. He advocated on my behalf by having me sent to the bariatric surgeon," he said.

"The surgeon should realize —anybody who can Google nowadays should realize — that this is a horrible hernia, it's massive, it's gone hard, it needs to be fixed. I'm honestly worried about my health if it stays like it is much longer."

No way to speed it up

Fleet said he spoke to someone with the bariatric program who told him there aren't a lot of people on the wait list who have a serious condition like he does.

This could kill me if I get hit the wrong way, if I pull something even more.- Michael Fleet

"That's the frustrating part, especially for people who have been in the emergency room they go through triage. You could go in there at noon and somebody could come in half an hour after you and if their case is more serious, they go to see the doctor first and this is how that program should operate," he said.

He added while he doesn't hold any ill will to people on the same wait list he's on and he realizes there's a high rate of obesity in Newfoundland and Labrador, there needs to be some sort of way to get serious cases bumped up the line.

"I completely understand some people might be watching their TVs and saying crybaby, but unfortunately some people are on that list that are just obese, and that's true, but their cholesterol might be controllable with medication, their diabetes is controllable with insulin," he said.

"I can't control my hernia."

CBC News has asked Eastern Health about how the wait list for gastric bypass surgery works, but has not yet received a response with those details.

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