Morgan Walker is a typical teenager, but only because a piece of his brain the size of a deck of cards was removed four years ago.
Walker, who had seizures several times a day before his surgery, worries other people may not be so lucky.
This is because his surgeon, Dr. Demitre Serletis, is leaving the province and the Health Sciences Center. Serletis will begin practicing at the Cleveland Clinic in the New Year.
âI was a little shocked, but I understood why,â Walker said from his home in Brandon. “The government really did not respect doctors.”
Serletis – who was recruited five years ago to create a revolutionary epilepsy program that would lead to brain surgeries here – announced last month that he was moving to the United States in the New Year because the province had not actually funded the program.
Serletis told the Free press he hopes that by publicly announcing his plans, he can convince the province to finally implement the program.
A spokesperson for Shared Health said about 20,000 adults and children are living with epilepsy, and of these, about 70% respond to medications and treatments and do not need surgery.
It is estimated that up to half of the estimated 6,000 other adults and children would benefit from surgery, and only 20 Manitobans were sent out of the province for surgery in the past year before the pandemic.
“Shared Health remains committed to improving health care for all Manitobans, including working to strengthen neurology services and improve local access to care and surgery for patients with epilepsy,” said the spokesperson in a press release.
“The development of a surgical program for adults remains a priority, supported in part by the recent announcement of an expanded adult epilepsy surveillance unit …) which provide this care, are underway. . ”
In May, then-Health Minister Heather Stefanson announced that the province would invest $ 4 million in the expansion of HSC’s Adult Epilepsy Surveillance Unit. The expansion would allow the unit to go from two beds to four beds, purchase new state-of-the-art monitoring equipment and include technology upgrades.
âThe expansion of the Adult Epilepsy Surveillance Unit at HSC Winnipeg is a critical step in reducing the need for patients to leave their support network to receive care outside of this province. and lowering the costs of anti-epileptic drugs – costs that can then be reinvested. to provide care to Manitobans, âStefanson said at the time.
Five months later, Dr Serletis announced he was leaving because, while capital funding for the adult program was approved, the operating costs – the salaries of doctors, technologists and nurses – were not. not.
âIn my opinion, Serletis did not come here because of a long term vision. He was promised a program and the government broke its promises. ‐ Dr Dan Roberts, Intensive Care Physician and Acting Co-Head of Neurology at HSC
Dr Dan Roberts, an intensive care physician who is co-head of neurology at HSC, said: âI won’t speak for the surgery, (but) I can say I doubt they are actively recruiting another neurosurgeon. until budget approvals are confirmed.
âThe extent of the engagement, in the response you received, belies the facts and recent history. In my opinion, Serletis did not come here because of a long-term vision. promised a program, and the government was not delivered. ”
Roberts said the problems don’t end with the loss of a neurosurgeon. There are currently only 10 technologists while 12 are needed. Soon, three will be going on maternity leave.
“We need to make a decision on stopping ambulatory EEGs,” he said. “We can only handle the volume of the hospital now. We certainly cannot handle an epilepsy surveillance unit that requires a full-time technician.”
Roberts said it takes two years to train a technician – time the province doesn’t have. Thus, they are actively recruiting in Europe and South Asia. He added that the province had also decided to increase technician salaries, which were 20 to 35 percent higher in Saskatchewan.
“They let a disaster unfold without dealing with it with the measures they are now prepared to take. If they had done so two and a half years ago, this disaster would not happen now.
“Now the house is on fire, let’s call the fire department.”
Roberts said he didn’t understand the reasoning because epilepsy surgery saves taxpayer dollars in the long run. People with frequent seizures do not need to be hospitalized as often and can work without the need for provincial support programs.
Roberts said other provinces lack the surgical capacity to help many Manitobans and the province needs to set up its own epilepsy surveillance unit so surgeries can be performed here.
“It works. All the other provinces are doing this … it saves money,” he said. “It’s a very obvious thing to do.”
Walker, who was Serletis’ first surgical patient here, said: âI’m a little angry about this.
âEvery time I see the background of my phone it brings it back – it’s a picture of my brain. (Serletis) said he couldn’t guarantee a 100% cure, but he said that it could be 80 to 90% fewer seizures I have hardly any seizures since the operation.
“The four years before my operation were pretty horrible. I got to know the paramedics. I had to keep getting them to the hospital three times a week or every day.”
Walker wants to get his driver’s license, works part-time as a cook in a canteen, and can’t wait to graduate next year. These are things he couldn’t do until his seizures were under control.
Walker’s mother Meredith said, âYou just know that (Serletis) wanted to change people’s lives.
âIt’s the tragedy. They brought him here to do amazing things, and it gave people and families hope. It’s shameful.
“And it’s just heartbreaking to think of all the people who won’t be helped.”
Kevin Rollason is one of the Winnipeg Free Press’s most versatile journalists. Whether covering town hall, courthouse or general reporting, Rollason can not only answer the 5 W’s – Who, What, When, Where and Why – but do so in an engaging and accessible way for readers. . .
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