Organ transplants delayed as COVID-19 pandemic puts non-urgent procedures on hold
Non-urgent procedures remain on hold at hospitals across Waterloo-Wellington, as they continue to struggle with increased patient loads and decreased staffing due to COVID-19.
Some of those patients are waiting for organ transplants, which are among the many procedures that were pushed back with every wave of the pandemic.
Mark Bell, a Woodstock father, remembers the feelings of anxiety and stress while waiting to donate his kidney to his son, Brennan.
Brennan Bell at the hospital (Supplied)
“Once he was in kidney failure, we were hoping to do a pre-emptive transplant,” Mark said. “But it happened so quickly he had to go on dialysis for a little while first.”
The Bells were at Victoria Hospital in London in March 2020, learning how to do home dialysis, when they discovered Mark was a match for Brennan. A surgery was scheduled for April 9, 2020.
“We were obviously very excited,” he said. “Then two days after that, my transplant coordinator called me to tell us it was cancelled due to COVID. So that was devastating . . . On top of that the pandemic was new, there was no vaccines, so we were very stressed because [Brennan’s] in a demographic where he’s more susceptible to being really sick from it.”
He added Brennan was only supposed to be on dialysis for a few weeks, and it ended up being six months.
Over the next five months, the Bells would have several dates set and rescheduled as COVID-19 waves strained hospitals.
Mark, who works as a physio and occupational therapy assistant at Woodstock Hospital, saw some of it first-hand.
“I was afraid to go into work at first.”
Across Ontario, it’s estimated 20 million surgical and diagnostic procedures have been delayed since the pandemic’s onset.
“Based on our modelling right now, we do know it will take years to get through this backlog,” said Dr. Adam Kassam, the president of the Ontario Medical Association.
When it comes to organ transplants, health officials say it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how many have been delayed, or how long wait times have increased.
They say some patients may still be waiting for assessments, and haven’t even made it onto the transplant list yet.
Data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information shows 146 patients died while waiting for transplant surgery in 2020. That’s a 25.8 per cent increase from the 116 who died waiting for transplant in 2019.
In 2018, 107 patients died.
Ontario saw 1,135 transplants performed in 2020. There were 1,386 transplants performed in 2019, and 1,235 done in 2018.
The Bells were finally scheduled for their living donor transplant Sept. 16, 2020.
But the pandemic protocols meant other challenges during the operation.
Brennan was 14, and had to go to a pediatric hospital. He had his mom with him.
Brennan Bell at the hospital (Supplied)
Mark was at a different hospital for his surgery, and was only allowed one visit post-operation.
While they remember the anxiety of waiting for a surgery date, they’re thankful it finally happened.
Mark says his son is doing really well.
“He’s gained a ton of weight and he’s growing like crazy and he’s thriving. He’s doing amazing.”
Anyone interested in signing up to be an organ donor can find more information here.
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