04/24/2015 07:00 EDT | Updated 07/22/2015 03:59 EDT

Health card expired, leukemia patient faces death

A Montreal woman suffering from leukemia could soon be facing death because her public health care card has expired.

With no medical coverage, Djamilatou Maiga does not have the means to pay for a bone marrow transplant which costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.

​Maiga moved to Canada from Mali nine years ago. She studied in Ontario, where she found out about her illness in February 2012. She moved to Montreal in January 2013 after obtaining a work permit.

"Of course it's stressful. Every day counts," she said.

She's worried her chronic myelogenous leukemia could kill her.

Maiga requires an emergency bone marrow transplant. However, her health care card expired in January, and she cannot renew it because her Quebec immigration file has been rejected.

Maiga said the transplant and related medical follow-ups would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even though her sister has been identified as a compatible donor, Maiga said she cannot get the transplant because she cannot afford to pay the bill.

"My family, it's more stressful for them because they're in Mali. It's more stressful for them because they don't have the means to do it […], my friends around me don't have the means, and I personally don't have the means," she said.

"These services are quite expensive," said her doctor, Pierre Laneuville, of the Royal Victoria Hospital.

Laneuville said hospitals do not have the means to incur such costs on their own, and require the approval of the public health-care system.

Looking into it: provincial government

The provincial government is aware of the situation, Health Minister Gaétan Barrette's office said. It also said Barrette is looking into the issue.

Quebec's immigration ministry is also aware of Maiga's file, though it would not comment for this story.

Maiga said she does not want to fly to her birth country for treatment, as she's worried about the quality of health care in Mali.

Immigration file incomplete

With her Quebec work experience and Ontario university degree, Maiga thought she could have obtained a Quebec selection certificate, which would have allowed her to have access to its health care system.

The immigration ministry rejected her request for Quebec immigration in November 2014. A letter she received from the government said that some documents she had submitted were not in the right format.

Maiga then contacted the ministry to find out if she could immigrate without having to file a new request. She said a bureaucrat analysed her dossier again but could not find any solution for now.

Maiga said she could probably obtain immigrant status if she submitted a new request with the help of a lawyer, but she said immigration officials have already warned her process would take too long.

"The issue is that it's going to take a year or more, but I don't have a year or more because I have to get the bone marrow transplant as soon as possible," she said.

Laneuville confirmed the clock is ticking.

"Virtually everyone who has CML — uncontrolled — dies from the disease. For her, it's a life or death situation," he said.

Maiga's lawyer, Vincent Valaï, said she should be treated with or without a health care card.

"They're letting her die. They're not letting her have access to a health-care system which could let her live," he said.

Maiga's now appealing to donors for help through a website she intends to set up with a friend.

"I'm thinking, 'What's going to happen tomorrow?' Because at the end of the day, it's my life. If I don't get [the treatment], I die."