PEI

Islanders forced to relocate for transplant surgery to receive increased financial support

The P.E.I. government has announced an increase in financial accommodation support for Islanders forced to relocate outside the Maritime region to receive transplant surgery, according to a media release. 

Islanders who relocate will now receive up to $2,500 per month in accommodation support

'We felt as a government it's very important to support Islanders and take some of that financial burden away so that they can focus on their well-being,' P.E.I. Health and Wellness Minister James Aylward says. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

The P.E.I. government has announced an increase in financial accommodation support for Islanders forced to relocate outside the Maritimes to receive transplant surgery, according to a news release. 

Beginning Wednesday, Islanders who relocate will receive up to $2,500 per month in accommodation support, the release said.

This is an increase from the previous maximum support of $1,000 per month. 

"Certainly a thousand dollars was contributing to a bit of a financial burden for those individuals that are forced to go to Toronto for this life-saving surgery," said Minister of Health and Wellness James Aylward.

Lung Association applauds increase

Each year, several Islanders need to relocate outside the region to receive life-sustaining transplants. Lung transplants in particular are not even provided in Atlantic Canada. Most of the 26 or so Atlantic Canadians who receive them each year have their surgery at Toronto General Hospital.

Lorraine MacKenzie was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in 2016. It's a fatal disease that causes scarring in the lungs. MacKenzie's only option is to relocate to Toronto, one of the country's most expensive cities to live in, for a lung replacement surgery. (Ivan Arsovski/CBC)

Islander Lorraine MacKenzie is one of several people from P.E.I. who have been forced to relocate to access transplant surgery.

While she said she would rather be at her home in Beach Point, P.E.I., she is currently staying in Toronto — one of the most expensive cities in Canada — while she desperately waits for a lung transplant.

MacKenzie was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in 2016. Several of her relatives have already died from the disease. She has been lobbying and eagerly waiting for the increase in financial support for months.

"For some it's too late but we look to the future now," MacKenzie said. "There's nothing we can do with the ones that have lost their homes, have had to mortgage their homes or have gone bankrupt."

"That's in the past, so we have to look from here on and hopefully this helps and lets others know that they can make a difference."

In a news release Wednesday, the P.E.I. Lung Association applauded the government's decision to increase support. 

"No one should have to turn down a life-saving procedure like a lung transplant because of costs," said Robert MacDonald, president and CEO of the association, in the release. 

"We're optimistic this increase should help make that decision a little easier for lung transplant patients who have been struggling with how they would support themselves while living out-of-province during their procedure."

Continued support

Patients who are currently relocated will receive the increased support this month, the release said.

The money will be made available through the Transplant Surgery Travel and Accommodations Assistance Program.

The province will also continue to provide transplant patients with up to $1,500 every six months for travel assistance, as well as access to home care, health professional care, medical supplies and equipment and drugs as part of their outpatient care, according to the release.

This is in addition to the $2,500 for accommodation support.

"We felt as a government it's very important to support Islanders and take some of that financial burden away so that they can focus on their well-being," Aylward said. 

For MacKenzie, the focus will be on waiting for a new pair of lungs. She anticipates having to be in Toronto for at least another six months. While the wait itself is painful, MacKenzie said this new support for her and others goes a long way.

"Every little bit helps that we can be proactive and help other people and, to me, this is what this journey has been about, is helping others," she said. 

This spring, the story of Nova Scotian Natalie Jarvis's struggle with the costs of moving to Toronto for a lung transplant inspired the Nova Scotia government to increase its living allowance for lung patients and others who have to leave the province for treatment. That province also increased its allowance from $1,000 a month to $2,500. 

More P.E.I. news

With files from Nicole Williams, Angela Walker

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.