Doctor’s departure stressful for teen


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Morgan Walker is a typical teen — but only because a piece of his brain the size of a deck of cards was removed four years ago.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/10/2021 (516 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Morgan Walker is a typical teen — but only because a piece of his brain the size of a deck of cards was removed four years ago.

Walker, who had seizures multiple times a day before his surgery, fears other people might not be so lucky.

That’s because his surgeon, Dr. Demitre Serletis, is leaving the province and Health Sciences Centre. Serletis will start practising at the Cleveland Clinic in the new year.

“I was kind of shocked, but I understood why,” Walker said from his home in Brandon. “The government really hasn’t been respecting doctors.”

Serletis — who was recruited five years ago to create a groundbreaking epilepsy program that would lead to brain surgeries being done here — announced last month he was moving to the U.S. in the new year because the province had failed to actually fund the program.

Serletis told the Free Press he is hoping that by announcing his plans publicly it might convince the province to finally set up the program.

A Shared Health spokesman said there are about 20,000 adults and children who live with epilepsy, and of those, about 70 per cent respond to medicine and treatment and don’t need surgery.

It is estimated that up to half of the other roughly 6,000 adults and children would benefit from surgery, and only 20 Manitobans were sent out of province for surgery in the last year before the pandemic.

“Shared Health remains committed to improving health care for all Manitobans, including efforts to strengthen neurology services and enhanced local access to care and surgery for patients with epilepsy,” the spokesman said in a statement.

“The development of an adult surgical program remains a priority, supported in part by the recent announcement of an expanded adult epilepsy monitoring unit… efforts to support this longer-term vision, including recruitment of the specialized human resources (surgeons and EEG technicians) who provide this care, are ongoing.”

Last May, then-health minister Heather Stefanson announced the province is going to invest $4 million toward expanding the HSC’s adult epilepsy monitoring unit. The expansion would see the unit go from two beds to four beds, buy new state-of-the-art monitoring equipment and include technology-related upgrades.

“The expansion of the adult epilepsy monitoring unit at HSC Winnipeg is a pivotal step toward reducing the need for patients to leave their support network behind to receive care outside this province and toward decreasing costs for anti-epileptic medications — costs that can then be reinvested into providing care for Manitobans,” Stefanson said at the time.

Five months later, Dr. Serletis announced he was leaving because, while the capital funding for the adult program was approved, the operating costs — the wages for the doctors, technologists and nurses — were not.

“In my opinion, Serletis did not come here because of a long-term vision. He was promised a program, and the government didn’t deliver.”– Dr. Dan Roberts, an ICU doctor and acting co-head of neurology at the HSC

Dr. Dan Roberts, an ICU doctor who is the acting co-head of neurology at the HSC, said, “I won’t speak for surgery, (but) I can say I doubt that they will be actively recruiting another neurosurgeon until budget approvals are confirmed.

“The extent of the commitment, in the response that you received, belies the facts and the recent history. In my opinion, Serletis did not come here because of a long-term vision. He was promised a program, and the government didn’t deliver.”

Roberts said the problems don’t stop at the loss of a neurosurgeon. There are currently only 10 technologists when 12 are needed. Soon, three will be leaving for maternity leave.

“We have to make a decision on stopping out-patient EEGs,” he said. “We can only handle the hospital volume now. We certainly can’t handle an epilepsy monitoring unit which demands a full-time technician.”

Roberts said it takes two years to train a technician — time the province doesn’t have. So, they are actively recruiting in Europe and southern Asia. He said the province has also decided to raise technician salaries, which had been 20 to 35 per cent higher in Saskatchewan.

“They’ve allowed a disaster to unfold without addressing it with the measures they are now prepared to take. Had they done this two and a half years ago, this disaster wouldn’t be occurring now.

“Now the house is on fire, let’s call the fire department.”

Roberts said he doesn’t understand the thinking, because epilepsy surgery saves taxpayer dollars in the long run. People suffering frequent seizures don’t have to be hospitalized as often, and they are able to work, without needing provincial support programs.

Roberts said other provinces don’t have the surgical capacity to help many Manitobans and that the province needs to set up its own epilepsy-monitoring unit so surgeries can be done here.

“This works. Every other province does this… it saves money,” he said. “It is a very obvious thing to do.”

Walker, who was Serletis’ first surgical patient here, said, “I’m kind of angry about it.

“Every time I see my phone background it brings it back — it is a picture of my brain. (Serletis) said he couldn’t guarantee a 100 per cent cure, but he said it could be 80 to 90 per cent less seizures. I have been virtually seizure-free since the surgery.

“The four years before my surgery were pretty awful. I got to know the paramedics. I had to keep getting them to go to hospital three times a week or every day.”

Walker wants to get his driver’s licence, is working part-time as a cook at a canteen and is looking forward to graduating next year. These are things he couldn’t do until his seizures were under control.

Walker’s mother, Meredith, said, “You just know (Serletis) wanted to change peoples’ lives.

“That’s the tragedy. They brought him here to do amazing things, and it gave hope to people and to families. It is shameful.

“And it is just heartbreaking to think of all the people who won’t be helped.”

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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