Sask. Opposition brings woman waiting nearly 3 years for surgery to legislature to highlight wait times

A Saskatchewan woman says she wants her life back after waiting about three years for a surgery she needs before getting a kidney transplant.

Terry Rebalkin needs parathyroid surgery so she can then have a kidney transplant

Terry Rebalkin, centre, was diagnosed with a kidney disease in 2008 and needs a kidney transplant. However, she first needs parathyroid surgery, which requires three to five days of recovery in hospital. (Kirk Fraser/CBC)

A Saskatchewan woman says she wants her life back after waiting nearly three years for surgery.

Terry Rebalkin — who has suffered from kidney disease since 2008 — needs a kidney transplant, but first needs to have parathyroid surgery, which requires three to five days of recovery in hospital.

However, Rebalkin said she has been told the procedure has been delayed because there are no available hospital beds in Saskatoon for her to recover in.

"I'm tired of waiting. My pain is horrible," she told reporters on Tuesday at the Legislative Building after question period. She and her husband Kevin were invited to the legislature by the Opposition NDP.

"It's all tied to overcrowding in our hospitals and this government not taking the pandemic seriously and not working faster to address these challenges," said Opposition health critic Vicki Mowat.

Rebalkin said she was able to keep the kidney disease at bay until 2019 through dialysis and healthier living. However, things took a turn for the worst that year when her kidneys started filling up with fluid.

She said she has been in and out of hospitals ever since, but hasn't been able to get adequate help, especially in emergency rooms.

"I've been treated horribly when I've gone to the emergency room, not getting the care that I need, not getting a bed, being septic and being sent home when you're supposed to be in the hospital," she said, noting that she has waited up to seven hours in an emergency room.

"It seems like nobody cares because they're so overworked and they're tired. The staff and the health region are exhausted."

Rebalkin said she and her family are also exhausted as the ordeal continues to take a toll on them.

Rebalkin now relies on a walker to get around, with she and her husband — who live in Saskatoon — having to move homes to help accommodate her mobility challenges.

She said the reason for her deteriorating condition is because she hasn't been able to get her surgery done in time.

"It's just frustrating, very frustrating."

'I'm scared'

Rebalkin said she believes the province's handling of COVID-19 — especially the decision to drop all mandates — is one of the reasons for ongoing surgery delays.

"They've made COVID the most important thing, and I understand, but then they act like it's not here," she said.

"So there's more and more beds being taken up by people that have had COVID, and I understand they're sick, but what about the rest of us? I've done everything you've asked me to do and what have I gotten out of it? Not a thing."

She said her parathyroid surgery has been tentatively booked for May 25, but it could be further delayed.

"I'm just hoping that my surgery will be done on the day that I need, otherwise, I mean, it doesn't give you a good outlook on life," she said.

"I'm not gonna lie, I'm scared.… I just want my life back."

Province working to address surgery backlog

Before meeting with the Rebalkins on Tuesday, Health Minister Paul Merriman said his heart goes out to people who are experiencing surgery delays and their families.

He said he would like to see a maximum surgical wait time of three months, but the province has to "gear up after two years of having our system on and off and shutting down programs, pulling people out, moving them around. It's a challenge."

Merriman said between 34,000 and 35,000 surgeries were delayed during the pandemic. He said the province is working to reduce the backlog within three years.

He said Saskatoon is now back up to 100 per cent surgery capacity for scheduled surgeries and Regina is at around 90 per cent.

"Our surgical capacity is increasing, but we need to do more than that," he said.

"We need to engage the private surgeries that are publicly funded to be able to get them. We need to look at expanding the scopes of some of the surgical centres and we need to load-level across our system."

He also said that additional ICU beds promised in the budget may be announced later this week or next week. At the same time, Merriman said the province doesn't want to overload the healthcare system.

"We want to find that balance where we're maximizing our health-care capacity but not burning out our people."

With files from Adam Hunter