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Giving up on B.C. health care: Why a Port Alberni man went to Mexico for surgery


He got tired of waiting years for knee replacement surgery in B.C. 

So Bruce Gordon went to Puerto Vallarta and paid for the procedure himself.

“My life has been mired in pessimism from what I was getting from the medical system here and I finally decided I was going to do this on my own,” the Port Alberni man said in an interview with CTV News.

He had the surgery in January, but just returned home last week.

“I’m without crutches now, I’m walking,” he said of his recovery.

Gordon, who has osteoarthritis in his joints, said his decision to seek out-of-country care comes after he endured a painful 2.5-year wait for hip surgery back in 2015.

“Severe pain is a horrible thing to experience," he said. "Then the Band-Aid was putting me on hydromorphone for two years, which caused me a great deal of problems going off it."

He wasn’t willing to go through that again and deal with the ongoing physical and mental challenges that accompanied his pain. So he gave up waiting for the B.C. system to give him a new knee.

“Patients waiting on waitlists face a significant amount of anxiety and stress over that wait,” said Doctors of B.C. president Dr. Ahmer Karimuddin, who said this is a challenge many British Columbians are facing.

“There’s a significant social cost to that because people sometimes aren’t able to work in a meaningful way or have to change the way they work or the things that give them joy,” said Karimuddin, a surgeon at St. Paul’s Hospital.

He also explained that waiting longer for some surgeries can bring adverse outcomes.

As of the end of January there were 9,491 patients in B.C. waiting for knee surgery.

Provincial statistics indicate that 50 per cent of patients have their knee operation within about 24 weeks, and 90 per cent of cases are completed within 57 weeks. 

When it comes to hip replacement, there are about 5,000 people on the wait list. Ninety per cent of those surgeries are done within 50 weeks.

“While we are, I understand from the ministry's numbers, doing more surgeries than we’ve done before, what’s clear is that patients are continuing to wait longer for those procedures and for access to care that they and their physicians feel are right for them,”Karimuddin said.

He said work is being done to improve health care in B.C., but the biggest challenge is a shortage of health-care workers.

“B.C. and Canada have far fewer hospital beds than many other countries around the world so all of those things make significant pain points to get more patients through the system,” the surgeon explained.

He said any patient who decides to seek medical help outside Canada has only come to that decision after serious thought and likely a lot of stress and anxiety.

He pointed out that standards of care and the way surgeries are done can be different in other parts of the world.

“When a person comes back…we don’t know exactly what they’ve had done. If there’s problems or complications, how do we then provide them the best care possible for their problem?” he asked.

As for Gordon, he said he feels abandoned by B.C.’s health-care system.

“I have no idea how I got lost in this vortex but I’m not the only one, there’s other people that are getting lost in this and people waiting to see a professional surgeon,” said Gordon.

“Pain sucks the life force out of you eventually. It screws with your mind wondering if it’s a punishment from God or something just as bad."

Gordon said he continues to wait for a hip surgery in B.C.

“There are days when it’s very difficult to get out of bed and walk properly,” Gordon explained.

He said if he isn’t offered the surgery here by November, he will head back to Mexico and have it done there. 


This story has been updated to clarify the statistics on completion times. About 50 per cent of surgeries are completed within 24 weeks, while 90 per cent are completed within 57 weeks. Top Stories

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