Nova Scotia

Lung transplant patients among those to benefit from travel allowance boost

Nova Scotia's Health Department is increasing a monthly allowance to lung transplant patients after a CBC report showed that some people were opting to move into palliative care because they couldn't afford the life-saving surgery.

Amount to increase by $1,000 a month following CBC reports

Natalie Jarvis received a double-lung transplant on April 21 at Toronto General Hospital. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

Nova Scotia's Health Department is increasing a monthly allowance to lung transplant patients after a CBC report showed some people were opting to move into palliative care because they couldn't afford the life-saving surgery.

The monthly allowance for those who have to leave the province for medical treatment is increasing by $1,000 a month, to $2,500. The government made the announcement Friday.

"I think it's a great day in Nova Scotia," said Robert MacDonald, president and CEO of the Lung Association of Nova Scotia. "I think it's a good jump up, and I think it's a rational decision at this time. We'll always be monitoring it."

Lungs are the only organ not transplanted on the East Coast, forcing those who need the surgery to live most often in Toronto for months until a match is found, and for several months while they recover. 

With the cost of living soaring in Toronto, patients across the Atlantic region have been forced to raise thousands of dollars while fighting their life-threatening disease in order to afford to make the trip.

Dr. Meredith Chiasson, who runs the lung transplant clinic in Halifax, called the amount "a great surprise."

She plans to call the patients who turned down the transplant to see if the funding may change their minds.

Chiasson expects, for now, she won't have to talk to her patients about fundraising.  

"We can now change the focus back to where it should be — the drugs, the side effects, the complications, things they really need to be hearing if they're going to move forward to have a transplant.

"I know budgets are tight, money is scarce. I really do have to thank the Liberal government and Randy Delorey for making this happen." 

Other patients will also benefit

The money won't just help lung transplant patients.

People who need to leave Nova Scotia for more than a month for stem cell transplant, prenatal complications and some other insured treatments that aren't offered in the province will also qualify for the increase.

The announcement comes just days after Natalie Jarvis, 42, received her double-lung transplant in Toronto. Jarvis initially chose palliative care because she did not want to bankrupt her family while waiting for the surgery. Her specialist convinced her to change her mind.

Jarvis moved to Toronto at the end of January, spending $2,000 a month to live in a former university dorm room with her mother, Janice Tanner.   

Tanner was thrilled to learn the news on Friday, and said she couldn't wait to run to the physiotherapy room at the hospital to tell the other Nova Scotia patients who are there waiting for a transplant. 

"It's heartbreaking to hear the stories that people have gone through to save a loved one," Tanner said.

"There's a gentlemen here, he doesn't know what he's going to do. He has his own small business and he's back and forth from Nova Scotia. It's really hard on the ones that don't have private health care."

The Health Department announced the new funding will be retroactive to April 1, and those who qualify for the retroactive money will be contacted. 

Tanner said there are many hidden costs for transplant patients. Even something like a medic alert bracelet adds up. 

"There's so many things you learn once you come here that you don't know. Personally, I'm still waiting got hear back from unemployment to see if I'm going to get accepted."

Tanner said she's hoping Jarvis will wake up soon so she can tell her daughter that her story sparked change. 

"It will make a difference," she said. 

173 Nova Scotians received funding in 2017-18

This is the first time the allowance has been increased since it was established, but the new money is still less than the $3,000 per month patients in Newfoundland and Labrador receive. 

Prince Edward Island is also doing a review of its out of province funding, while New Brunswick says it will monitor what is happening in the other Maritime provinces. 

Nova Scotia says in 2017-18, 173 people received money under the out-of-province funding program, totaling $403,300.

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About the Author

Carolyn Ray

Videojournalist

Carolyn Ray is a videojournalist who has reported out of three provinces and two territories, and is now based in Halifax. You can reach her at Carolyn.Ray@cbc.ca

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