Man forgoing life-saving treatment to send message to Yukon health officials
Terry Coventry says he wants to inspire the government to offer hemodialysis in Yukon
A 74-year-old man from Whitehorse says he's going to stay in the city for his final days alive, forgoing life-saving hemodialysis available to him in Vancouver, to put pressure on the territorial government to offer the treatment in Yukon.
"I hope the government will do something responsible because I'm dying, thank you very much," Terry Coventry said from his bed surrounded by journalists in Whitehorse General Hospital on Tuesday.
"My problems are my own, but I sure hope it'll help with the next person."
He was diagnosed with kidney failure earlier in the year, according to Kelly Coventry, his sister.
Terry spent the past several months being treated in Vancouver, which included hemodialysis — the treatment filters wastes and water from the patient's blood.
He said he was eventually told that he would have to go to a long-term care facility in B.C., which would cost most of his income, leaving him with about $300 a month. That amount would have to cover physiotherapy, and transportation to and from the treatment.
Kelly said they were also told that if he was in care in B.C., Terry would have to give up his senior's apartment and Yukon health-care coverage, which meant he would have to fly commercially — not be medevaced.
"I'm just not going to be stuck in a long-term facility, in a corner and forgotten about," Terry said.
Kelly said Terry has spastic paralysis. She said Vancouver doctors told her in-home hemodialysis exists, but they wouldn't approve it because Terry is "basically bedridden."
"He needed to be able to be up and functioning."
Kelly said she was agreeable to taking a two-month course on how to administer this in-home treatment. She said she was told by Yukon hospital staff that hemodialysis was not available in the territory.
"To have him have to give up his life because there's no hemodialysis here, to me, is just disgusting. It's beyond belief," she said.
It's important for him to be happy in his final days.- Kelly Coventry, Terry's sister
Kate White, Terry's friend and the leader of the Yukon NDP, who was in the room as reporters posed questions, said hemodialysis is not offered in Yukon. Later, she declined an interview.
A request for an interview with someone from the territory's health department was not fulfilled Tuesday.
Others have relocated
Jason Bilsky, chief executive officer of the Yukon Hospital Corporation, told the Yukon Legislative Assembly on Oct. 18, 2018, that there are not enough people needing hemodialysis in the territory to justify offering the service.
"At this point, we and Health and Social Services agree that the threshold, as far as just the numbers, to be able to sustain a hemodialysis unit here has not been met. At this point we are not considering establishing a hemodialysis program here in-territory," he said, according to a transcript on the territorial government's website.
"BC Provincial Renal Agency guidelines suggest that a threshold of 65 to 75 patients requiring hemodialysis per year would be required in order to support a hemodialysis service in-centre here," he said, in part.
In response to a question about the number of people who get the treatment from "outside," Bilsky said that, over the past year, three people relocated to British Columbia, according to the transcript.
"As of 2019, there are 63 with chronic kidney disease, but they don't necessarily require any type of dialysis or treatment at the moment."
According to a Nov. 21, 2019, transcript, Bilsky said one person in Yukon receives in-home hemodialysis and has support from the BC Renal Agency.
'Too late for Terry'
Kelly said she was told that Terry would have eight days to live after his last dialysis; his last treatment was on Dec. 6.
"It's, unfortunately, too late for Terry," she said.
"Is it an easy decision and am I happy with it? No. I want him to live, but that's not going to happen, so it's important for him to be happy in his final days."
She added that he was much happier after he arrived back in Whitehorse over the weekend and spent time with family and friends.
"My buddy's gonna bring my TV and PlayStation 4 over so we can play golf," Terry said.
He said he hopes to go home one more time before he dies.
At the moment, he does have at least one comfort from home: a quilt his mother made him for Christmas three decades ago that Kelly brought him Monday.
"How long I got? Well, we don't know that yet. It's a new experience, that's for sure," said Terry, who has lived in Yukon since 1958.
"New adventure, eh, Terry?" Kelly replied.
"I'm not overly worried about it. I'm not afraid. I'm just kind of pissed off," Terry said.