10/12/2012 05:10 EDT | Updated 12/12/2012 05:12 EST

Paralyzed B.C. Teen Gets Apology For Long Surgery Wait


B.C.’s health minister is apologizing for surgery delays that contributed to an Okanagan teenager being left paralyzed from the waist down.

“I am most sincerely sorry not only for this family but for any family that waits this long,” said Health Minister Dr. Margaret MacDiarmid.

“When I look around the province I see really, an excellent health-care system but I know that from time to time, we do let people down and of course that’s not what we want to have happen.”

A report by the B.C. Patient Care Quality Review Board says the Provincial Health Services Authority failed two Okanagan teens who desperately needed spinal surgery.

It focused primarily on the case of Walid Khalfallah, of Kelowna, who was diagnosed in 2004 with a spinal-curvature condition called kyphosis.

In 2009, when Khalfallah was 13, his doctor insisted the boy's condition required immediate attention but a series of delays pushed his surgery date back by 27 months.

Rather than risk further delays, Khalfallah's family gave up on B.C.’s health system and sought help at the Shriners' Hospital in Spokane, Wash.

But by then, Khalfallah's curvature had more than doubled and he had to spend 10 weeks in traction before undergoing a 10-hour operation that left him paraplegic.

“We never want people to wait this length of time for important surgeries,” said MacDiarmid, adding that since 2009, B.C. Children’s Hospital has more than doubled the number of spinal surgeries it performs every year.

Hospital hired new surgeon

In 2011-12, the hospital performed 187 spinal surgeries, up from 85 in 2008-09, according to Tex Kissoon, the hospital's vice-president for medical affairs.

Kissoon says the key to increasing the hospital’s capacity was its success in recruiting a new spinal surgeon.

“These surgeons are really challenging to recruit. They are few and far between because there are few in number in North America," he said.

The wait list for spinal surgeries at B.C. Children’s Hospital dropped from 189 people in October 2011 to 133 people this past June, but Kissoon says wait lists are not a good indicator of the progress being made.

“A wait list is in constant flux. There’s some children who as they get worse will be reprioritized to be operated on earlier, and there are some children who may not need the surgery, so they would be off the wait list,” he said.

“So the idea of the wait list by itself is not the issue, the issue is how much throughput we can get, and that’s what we’re working on.”

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