Family of Chilliwack teen battling leukemia stunned by gaps in B.C.'s health-care system
The family of a Chilliwack boy battling leukemia are learning about the gaps in B.C.’s health-care system the hard way.
Seventeen-year-old Addison Johnston’s health began to deteriorate back in May. It started with chest pains, but progressed into serious neurological issues.
"He was having trouble walking,” said his mother Kristin Kelm. “It was like the brain was telling the legs what to do, but the legs couldn’t follow through with that action.”
After weeks of visits to Chilliwack Hospital and a family doctor, Helm and her husband Shane decided enough was enough, and took Addison to the emergency room at BC Children’s Hospital.
It was there where they thought he would get the diagnosis and care he needed, but upon their arrival they learned that wouldn’t be the case.
"We were told right away by the booking clerk that we probably would be transferred to VGH and that BC Children’s doesn’t treat people over the age of 17,” Kelm said.
It was a stunning discovery. Their 17 year-old son, who’s on the autism spectrum, is now considered an adult in B.C.’s health-care system.
Addison was transported to Vancouver General Hospital by ambulance.
It was there that he was diagnosed with leukemia.
Kelm says the hospital allowed one parent to stay overnight with him, and that the staff have done their best to accommodate the family and Addison’s needs.
However, Addison has heightened sensory issues, making the treatments even more traumatic.
"If he was at children's hospital, the procedure would be to put him under anesthesia for these invasive, traumatic procedures, but at VGH they don't have the capability for that,” said Helm.
VGH is the only adult hospital in B.C. that treats leukemia patients, who are required to live within 30 minutes of the hospital.
That requirement has forced Kristin, Shane and their younger son Ryland to relocate from their Chilliwack home to a downtown Vancouver apartment that they’re currently renting for more than $5,000 per month.
“We’ve had to move away from all of our supports – our family, our friends – and come to the most expensive city in this province to try and live,” said Kelm, who has also been forced to stop working.
"I don’t want any other family to go through what we've gone through.”
If Addison was at BC Children’s, his family would have access to the Ronald McDonald House, which provides housing and support for sick children as well as their families.
CTV News Vancouver has reached out to the Provincial Health Services Authority for comment, but has not received a response.
Addison is currently awaiting a bone marrow transplant, which his family hopes he’ll receive by the end of the year.
A GoFundMe campaign has been started to help the family pay for its expenses related to Addison’s care.