03/18/2014 10:15 EDT | Updated 05/18/2014 05:59 EDT

High amputation rate in northwest prompts $2M research donation

Thunder Bay Regional's orthopedic surgeons want to decrease high amputation rates in northwestern Ontario — and they're contributing their own money to form a local orthopedic research program to make it happen.

The chief of orthopedics at the hospital said diabetes complications in this region lead to an amputation rate that's almost three times higher than the provincial average.

"We see amputations occurring not in 80-and-90 year olds, but in 40-and-50 year olds,” said Dr. David Puskas.

“And it's disheartening to see that kind of suffering and realize that not a whole lot is being done to try to prevent it."

Puskas said the surgeons are starting the research program by personally giving a total of $2 million over 10 years. 

Their goal, he said, is to fund local orthopedic research that will directly improve care for patients in northwestern Ontario. Decreasing the rate of amputations by half is one of the priorities.  

"Our goal is to drop the amputation rate by 50 per cent, recognizing that the greatest portion of this will be a huge change in the amputation rate for First Nations,” Puskas noted, adding that surgeons in the region see a higher rate of amputations in First Nations patients — and at younger ages.

Putting 'our money where our mouth is'

The six surgeons making the donation are Dr. Peter Clark, Dr. Claude Cullinan, Dr. Kurt Droll, Dr. Jubin Payandeh, Dr. Tracy Wilson, as well as Puskas.  They are hoping others donors to the research program will come forward.   

"We are looking for our community and government people to step up and say, if our surgeons are committed enough to the point of giving $30,000 each for 10 years, we should be committed and jump on board and help our physicians improve healthcare problems in northwestern Ontario," Puskas said.

“We thought that one way we could get credibility is to ... vote with our feet, put our money where our mouth is, and say if we're going to commit this amount of money to this, then hopefully that will be a springboard for funding agencies and the public to see ... that ... this is something that [we] really believe in, that [we're] going to commit to and that they can expect to see results from."

Canada spends $1.5 billion a year on diabetic amputations.