Nfld. & Labrador

Medical trip going ahead for woman suffering from mysterious illness

Suzanne Whalen's condition has gone undiagnosed for over a year, and now she is heading to Toronto for a long-awaited doctor's appointment.

'It's like so much of the weight has been lifted off her shoulders,' says Craig Whalen

This picture was taken before Whalen started having inexplicable reactions. (Submitted by Craig Whalen)

After 16 months of turmoil for Suzanne and Craig Whalen, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, as Suzanne is soon headed to a doctor's appointment in Toronto to hopefully finally get answers about an undiagnosed illness that has thrown their lives into flux.

Last week, Craig Whalen outlined his family's struggle getting answers to his wife's complicated condition that has flummoxed doctors in St. John's, where Suzanne has been admitted to St. Clare's Mercy Hospital.

Whalen said his wife was not going to be able to travel by medevac to see a doctor at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto for an appointment on Aug. 30, because that doctor doesn't have admitting privileges, and a medevac won't fly if a patient doesn't have someone to sign them into the hospital upon arrival.

After speaking to CBC last week about a lack of answers, Whalen said his wife will now indeed be able to travel to the appointment she hopes will shed some light on her condition.

"What they decided to do was actually arrange it, in conjunction with this doctor that she had to see, that he would look after the admitting privileges and would find a doctor there that would look after this for her," Whalen said Tuesday.

"They basically came back on Saturday and told her and told myself that this is all looked after, so don't stress yourself anymore about not actually getting to your appointment on the 30th because it's all ironed out and you're ready to go."

Whalen said it's hard to describe the relief he and Suzanne feel after getting the news.

You've got to be strong, you've got to keep your head up.- Craig Whalen

"It's like so much of the weight has been lifted off her shoulders," he said with a relieved laugh.

"Even in talking to her, she seems a bit relieved that she finally knows now that this is actually gonna happen."

Since speaking to CBC about the situation, Whalen said things have completely shifted and communication between the family, doctors, and Eastern Health is much better. 

"It has 100 per cent [improved], I would say," Whalen told CBC's St. John's Morning Show on Tuesday.

"I know a lot of times doctors are busy and they don't always have the time to try and make 100 per cent communication between their patients and the family … especially when you're dealing with a complex situation like Suzanne."

'It wasn't a complicated issue'

While the news is positive, Whalen said the situation with Eastern Health was stressful.

"From what they have explained to me, it wasn't a complicated issue. When they finally got down to it, that the doctor in Toronto actually wanted to have her there in his office to try and diagnose, I don't think it was a complicated issue," Whalen said.

"It was just a matter of the doctor on that end basically saying he'll look after the administration, the admitting doctor there, when the time comes, and the doctors here agreed with it."

Suzanne Whalen and her family pictured this week. Her husband, Craig Whalen, says she looks totally different after more than a year of reactions. (Submitted by Craig Whalen)

But Whalen said none of that matters, now that he knows his wife is headed to see the doctor who may have the answers.

"Suzanne is the one who's going through all this and our focus is on her," he said.

"All I wanna know is that she's actually going to get to this appointment and this is where we need to be."

It's definitely taken its toll on Suzanne. It's taken a toll on me.- Craig Whalen

In the meantime, Whalen said he's been blown away by the outpouring of support from people who heard about Suzanne's story.

"Overwhelming, that's the word I've got to use. It's absolutely overwhelming," he said.

"I've had people contact me through messenger … I've had people offer up flights, I've had people offer up Air Miles, accommodations in the Toronto area right alongside the hospital. There have been people who have contacted us with similar diseases."

'It's taken a toll'

The messages have come from all over Canada, and even from people in the United States, where someone living in Boston offered up their home should the Whalens ever need to visit specialists there.

"You wouldn't believe it ... We don't even know these people and they're offering up their homes," Whalen said.

Suzanne's appointment is still a week and a half away, but Whalen said that's a short wait compared to the 16 months she's been fighting against a mysterious illness.

"Over the last 16 months it's taken its toll. It's definitely taken its toll on Suzanne. It's taken a toll on me," he said.

"You've got to be strong, you've got to keep your head up."

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from the St. John's Morning Show and Katie Breen