Province establishes adult epilepsy surgery program
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THE Manitoba government has committed to funding a long-awaited surgical program for adult epilepsy patients.
On Monday, Health Minister Audrey Gordon said her government will spend $2.5 million annually to establish the adult initiative and to expand pediatric services.
“Investing in a comprehensive adult epilepsy program that can provide monitoring and life-changing surgical intervention for patients will allow Manitobans to get the care they need here at home,” Gordon said.
According to the province, when the expanded epilepsy program at Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg is operational, roughly 20 adult and 30 pediatric patients will receive surgeries in Manitoba. The program is expected to begin next spring, pending the recruitment of a neurosurgeon.
Currently, adult epilepsy patients must go out-of-province to receive surgery, while approximately 15 pediatric patients have received surgery each year since 2017.
HSC chief operating officer Dr. Shawn Young said an estimated 20,000 Manitobans have epilepsy and one in 10 Manitobans will have a seizure in their life.
While some symptoms can be treated with medication, for thousands of people seizures continue despite pharmaceutical intervention, Young said. About 3,000 visit an emergency department in Manitoba each year as a result of seizures.
“The resulting effect on the quality of life for these patients is significant,” Young said. “Any second of any day, whether you’re riding your bike or preparing a meal or out with your friends, and you have seizure, imagine how that would feel?
“For these individuals in particular, today’s announcement offers some hope.”
Young said the funding signals a commitment by government to strengthen neurology services in the province. Previously, the Manitoba government opened a new 28-bed acute stroke unit at HSC; hired six new neurologists and has recruited three more; and increased the clinical stipend for MS physicians to improve neurology services.
“This support is crucial in our ongoing efforts to recruit and retain neurologists,” Young said.
The decision to fund adult epilepsy surgery is “better late than never,” said Dr. Dan Roberts, acting co-head of neurology at HSC.
“There’s been a lot of wasted opportunity.”
In September, Dr. Demitre Serletis, a neurosurgeon at HSC who led efforts to develop a proposal for a comprehensive pediatric and adult epilepsy program, left Manitoba for a job in the United States. At the time, he told the Free Press he had no option but to move on, after funding for the program failed to materialize.
“It’s been a rough go trying to exact resources from this government,” Roberts said.
However, Manitoba is an attractive destination for neurosurgeons and neurologists, so long as resources are in place to support them, Roberts added.
“No matter how many there are, they won’t come here if you can’t compete with other locations in terms of not only income but providing them with office space, providing them with clinic space, providing them with clinical stipends,” he said.
“We can find (multiple sclerosis) neurologists, we can find stroke neurologists, but the reason that they’re not applying here is because they know we have not had the resources to support them.”
Getting the program running and increasing capacity may be slow at first, but the surgeries offered to patients will be life-transforming and save the health system money in the long run, Roberts noted.
The new program is also being supported by the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba, which contributed $1.2 million to purchase a robotic stereotactic assistance guidance system to assist surgeons.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.