The Current

Doctor forced to tell lung-transplant patients to fundraise to pay for life-saving treatment

Patients in need of a lung transplant in Atlantic Canada need to move to Toronto for care, but the cost of that move is so high that some patients are choosing death over the debt. We speak to a doctor about the heartbreaking conversations she has with patients, and what should be done about it.

Some patients in Atlantic Canada can't afford cost of lung transplants, and are choosing to die instead

Dr. Meredith Chiasson, a respirologist based in Halifax, said she has to advise very sick patients to fundraise, so they can afford their life-saving lung transplants. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

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Atlantic Canadian patients who need lung transplants must move to Toronto for the life-saving surgery, but because the high cost of the move is not fully financially supported, some are simply choosing to die.

"I have now had three patients, from Nova Scotia, who have decided not to go," said Dr. Meredith Chiasson, a respirologist based in Halifax.

Those patients have not died yet, but "are coming to the end of their lives," she told The Current's guest host Piya Chattopadhyay.

Lung transplants are covered by the health-care system, but as the operation is not available in Atlantic Canada, patients must relocate to Toronto for potentially six to 12 months. Each province has its own allowances to help with the cost: patients from P.E.I. get $1,000 a month; there's $1,500 a month available in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick; and $3,000 a month for those from Newfoundland and Labrador.

That financial aid can fall short of Toronto's high cost of living however, leaving patients scrambling to make up the difference.

Natalie Jarvis, a patient who spoke to CBC News, tried to find accommodation in Toronto and was quoted rental rates as high as $5,000 a month.

Chiasson said that in order to get her patients to Ontario for treatment, she has to tell them to fundraise.

"I hate having to tell them that right now, when you can barely speak a full sentence, I need you to go out and pound the pavement to try and earn money so you can live,"  she told Chattopadhyay.

You are going to have to do fundraising or something else to come up with this money, because right now it's not coming from our government.- Dr. Meredith Chiasson

"I tell them that's the reality of the situation we're in right now: you are going to have to do fundraising or something else to come up with this money, because right now it's not coming from our government."

She said that conversations around health become secondary at that point, as money becomes the focus.

"I have a hard time getting them to listen to some of the other things I need them to hear," she said. "We need to talk about the drugs they have to take, and the side-effects, and survival after a lung transplant.

"There's a big conversation we need to have about transplants, but all they focus on is the money."

Click 'listen' near the top of the page to hear the full conversation.

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Mary-Catherine McIntosh.


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