Tuktoyaktuk cancer survivor's coverage cut by Health Canada

Patrick Kuptana's lymph node cancer is in remission but he can't swallow anything more solid than yogurt and applesauce. Last week his year-long coverage for a prescribed nutritional drink was cancelled by the federal government's non-insured health benefit program.

Man without saliva relies on meal replacement drink for sustenance

A woman in Tuktoyaktuk is determined to get back the nutritional drink her husband relies on for food after the federal government revoked funding for it without warning last week.

Patrick Kuptana has lived off of a prescribed meal replacement since he was diagnosed with lymph node cancer in 2013.

Terri Lee and Patrick, after 2 1/2 months of radiation and chemotherapy at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton. (Submitted by Terri Lee Kuptana)

Now he's in remission. But radiation therapy destroyed his salivary glands. His mouth is too dry to let him swallow anything more solid than yogurt and applesauce without choking.

Last week his year-long coverage for a prescribed nutritional drink was cancelled by the federal government's non-insured health benefit program. The drink provides calories, fat and protein. Kuptana drank about seven cartons of it a day.

"It's super important in my opinion," said Kuptana's wife, Terri Lee. "I mean, he can't eat, right? So this is his diet. This is his food."

But the family will now have to shell out about $180 a week for the drink. Terri Lee says they’d have to be millionaires to afford it.

The photo was taken five years before Patrick's cancer diagnosis. (Submitted by Terri Lee Kuptana)

“He’s gotten quiet,” she says. “Worried I guess. He’s not saying much, but you live with a person long enough, you know.”

Terri Lee sent out several letters asking that the coverage be re-instated. She says Health Canada gave no warning it was going to be cancelled, and they were left with a low supply of the drink and no backup plan. 

She says they would have started the appeals process sooner, had they known the funding would end.

Patrick Kuptana wrote his letter of appeal to Health Canada last week. He said, "I can no longer eat the diet I was able to before- a regular diet which every normal person can eat. I am hoping to get this sorted out as I only have 13 tetra packs left."

Health Canada denied it. In their response, they stated, “regretfully, food and food replacements doesn’t fall within the mandate of the NIHB program.”

The territorial non-insured health benefits plan does not cover them either.

Terri Kuptana says Patrick's oncologist was pleased that he was able to recently gain nine pounds. He's the prescriber of the meal supplement and helped fill out forms in the Kuptanas' appeal. Terri Lee says it's vital that her husband maintain his health and body weight to be able to fight off disease. Now, she worries about what will happen if he starts to lose weight. 

The meal supplement is full of calories, protein and fat. Patrick Kuptana drank seven a day to maintain a healthy body weight.

"The fear of him not being able to get the nutrients that his body needs to keep him in remission. Because without this Resource, his body's going to use whatever fat or whatever he's got in his body to be able to live daily."

A representative for Health Canada says they will provide comment on Patrick Kuptana’s situation later today.

In response to his circumstances, a representative for the Canadian Cancer Society wrote,  "The Canadian Cancer Society believes all Canadians living beyond cancer have the right to receive the support they need to thrive. We encourage all government to ensure the needs of cancer survivors are met, such as those suffering from the ill and long term effects of their treatments.”

Terri Lee Kuptana says she and her husband are working on a second letter of appeal, and she plans to apply for the territory’s extended benefits plan.

Patrick Kuptana is now completely out of his meal replacement. He’s drinking water while he waits.


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