Nfld. & Labrador·CBC Investigates

'Frustrating process': Patient says Eastern Health hampering efforts for new kidney

Shane Burridge says Eastern Health has kept the transplant co-ordinator role — which he calls an essential position — not properly filled since last summer.

Health authority says vacant transplant co-ordinator role has been covered, will be filled soon

Shane Burridge, who's currently off on sick leave from the RCMP, said he's facing issues with his care due to Eastern Health not properly backfilling the position of transplant co-ordinator. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Three times a week, Shane Burridge drives about 20 minutes from his home in St. Philip's to Mount Pearl, where he spends more than four hours in a dialysis chair getting his blood cleaned.

The RCMP officer, who's been off on sick leave, is still waiting for the call for a new kidney, which he says would give him his life back.

But Burridge, 44, says Eastern Health is hampering those efforts, by keeping what he calls an essential position not properly filled for months.

He said no one has been in the transplant co-ordinator role full-time since last summer — a position that works with potential kidney transplant patients and donors, and transplant centres across the country.

"This process right now is what's flawed, and I'm hoping that it'll be rectified," he told CBC Investigates.

"All I'm looking for is adequate health care, in regards to the transplant process. Right now, I don't believe that I'm getting adequate health care."

Meanwhile, Eastern Health said the current transplant co-ordinator has been on leave since the end of summer — but someone will be starting in the role soon.

Right now, I don't believe that I'm getting adequate health care.- Shane Burridge

The health authority declined interview requests, but said in a statement that two registered nurses with the dialysis program have taken on the duties of the co-ordinator role until a temporary replacement is in place, and this has allowed for full-time coverage.

The health authority said it had 16 successful kidney transplants in 2018, and is on pace to achieve that number this year.

Burridge says calls not being returned

But Burridge said he's frustrated in dealing with Eastern Health for this process.

Back in 2017, Burridge first spoke to CBC News about his need for a kidney.

Afterwards, he said, people started coming forward to see if they could be a potential match as a donor.

One of those people is a former classmate from Bonavista, who's now living in Toronto.

"She took it upon herself to see her doctor in Ontario. And her doctor says, 'You know what? You are fit to provide a transplant to somebody,'" Burridge said.

A view inside the Kidney Care Centre in Mount Pearl. (Submitted by Shane Burridge)

The woman said she had been calling the transplant co-ordinator since the summer, and when she hadn't heard back from Eastern Health, she reached out to Burridge on social media.

"So here she is, waiting on the backburner, and nobody's getting back to her. And nobody seems to care," Burridge said.

He said there are at least two other potential donors that he's heard from — but notes there could be others waiting for their calls to be returned.

"Some of these people could be a direct match to me. And all [of] this could be done and over with," Burridge said.

But Eastern Health said the role has been properly covered since the transplant coordinator position became vacant.

The health authority said all telephone messages were received and returned, and "work-up co-ordination continued efficiently."

Three days a week, Shane Burridge sits in a chair for more than four hours so that a dialysis machine can clean his blood. (Submitted by Shane Burridge)

When CBC Investigates called the co-ordinator's office on Jan. 16, the voicemail message said: "Currently, there is no permanent co-ordinator and there will be coverage one day per week, on Wednesdays. Please leave a message and we will get back to you as soon as we can."

But Eastern Health insists that voice message was only up for a short period in December, and that those calls were received and messages returned. 

CBC called the line again in mid-February, and the voicemail had been changed, advising callers to leave a message.

Making the national living donor list

Burridge made the deceased donors list for the Atlantic region — where he's awaiting a kidney donation from someone who has died — in 2017.

Now, he's hoping to be placed on a different, larger list: the national Living Donor Paired Exchange Program, which is run by the Canadian Blood Services.

"That's basically a program where [my wife Colleen] gives a kidney away because she's not a direct match to me. But if she gives a kidney away to somebody else in Canada, I in turn get a kidney from somewhere else in Canada," Burridge explained.

Burridge said the program happens three times a year. He said last summer, Colleen made sure to complete the extensive list of testing and all the required paperwork prior to the next round in October.

Shane Burridge receives his dialysis treatments at Eastern Health's Kidney Care Centre in Mount Pearl. (Submitted by Shane Burridge)

"By the end of October, I called the transplant co-ordinator's office to inquire as to what was happening, because I hadn't heard a single thing," Burridge said.

"I was very dismayed to learn that her paperwork was still sitting on the desk and hadn't even been sent off to Halifax."

Burridge said when he asked why it hadn't been sent off, he was told he'd have to wait for the next round of the program in February.

Now, he said, he has confirmed the paperwork was sent to Halifax, but it's March — and he still hasn't heard anything back.

The next round will take place in June.

Can't comment on specific cases

Both Eastern Health and Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) told CBC Investigates that they can't speak to specific patient cases due to privacy legislation.

In general terms, the NSHA said it can take "months to years" to be matched in the program, and once a match is found, it can take four to six months to arrange the transplant.

"If someone is not considered [for this program round], they will be accepted in the following round, as long as the donor and recipient are both healthy and active in the system," said Lesa Chisholm, the recipient transplant co-ordinator with the Multi-Organ Transplant Program.

Eastern Health said there are many reasons why this process can be delayed, from the "rigorous, interdisciplinary and complex" process for transplant donors, including diagnostic work, to the fact that the health authority is dependent on transplant centres that are outside the province.

What life is like on dialysis

It's been six years since Burridge started dialysis.

"You tell yourself you've got to be positive. But I mean, the machine itself certainly doesn't take the place of your kidneys," he said.

"It does take its toll on you."

He said a new kidney would mean giving him his life back: a chance to get back to the career he loves, and to have the freedom to do things, like travelling with his wife.

RCMP Cpl. Shane Burridge spoke with CBC News for a separate story in 2004. (CBC)

"Your life is currently on hold," he said. "The fact is dialysis keeps you alive, but ... there's no quality of life."

Burridge said a doctor told him three years ago that he was "falling through the cracks of Eastern Health" — and he's worried that's the case once again.

"The transplant co-ordinator passed by my [dialysis] chair ... almost two years ago, looked at me, and said: 'Shouldn't be much longer, Shane," he recalled.

"So I went home, told my wife that, 'Hopefully, honey, it won't be much longer.' And right now, the future is pretty bleak with the way things are."

Read more stories from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jen White

CBC News

Jen White is a reporter and producer with CBC News in St. John's.

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