Faced with long waits for hip replacement surgeries, some Manitobans are making the choice to pay thousands of dollars to have procedures done at private clinics in other provinces.
Barbara Higgins and Andy Maxwell made separate decisions to go to a health-care facility in Alberta to speed up a process that can take months or even years to happen in Manitoba.
The wait time for the Calgary clinic? About three to six weeks.
"When you get to your seventies, you don't know how many years you have left," Higgins said Tuesday. The St. Andrews resident flew to Calgary earlier this summer and got both hips replaced at the same time.
"I just got to the point you can't wait anymore... I only used a walker for two weeks after my surgery. You get your life back faster. I've already been on the golf course."
Maxwell, who got one hip replaced at the same Calgary clinic in May, spoke to the Free Press on his way back to the Alberta city to get the other replaced Wednesday.
"I don't know why they don't do it here... The surgeon in Calgary said my hips were mush and that I'd made the right decision to do it now because soon my pelvic bones would have been crushed. I don't know what I'd do if I couldn't afford it." ‐ Barbara Higgins
"I'm 72 — I don't want to be a cripple for two to four years waiting for surgery," said Maxwell, a retired dentist from Swan River.
"My right hip was bone-on-bone. I was shocked how quickly it deteriorated. Every step was a nightmare. Then, two weeks after my surgery, the other one needed to be done."
Both Higgins and Maxwell said they sympathize with people who have to stay on the waiting lists because they can't afford to pay for surgery. The bill to get both hips replaced was more than $50,000.
A spokesman for Shared Health sent questions from the Free Press about Manitobans going elsewhere for the procedure on to the province.
There was no response by deadline Wednesday.
Earlier this month, Shared Health confirmed about 30,000 Manitobans have had surgeries — including hip and knee, cardiac, and cataracts — pushed back because of months-long COVID-19 pandemic-related surgical shutdowns for non-urgent and elective procedures.
For hip and knee joint replacements, only 435 surgeries were performed in the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority between May 3 and July 25 — 49.2 per cent lower than the same period in 2019, before the pandemic began.
While Shared Health didn't have hip and knee surgery statistics for Brandon and the Morden/Winkler Boundary Trails Health Centre available, the hip and knee programs at Concordia and Grace hospitals in Winnipeg have reported more than 4,000 surgeries delayed.
"I already couldn't golf, for one thing. Getting in and out of a vehicle was torture. Same going up stairs. The pain was unrelenting." ‐ Barbara Higgins
It's numbers like those, Higgins and Maxwell say, that drove them to the private clinic in Calgary.
Higgins had the first X-ray for her hips in January 2019, had to wait nine months to see a surgeon, and was then told she might have surgery six months down the road.
"I already couldn't golf, for one thing," she said. "Getting in and out of a vehicle was torture. Same going up stairs. The pain was unrelenting."
Higgins said an additional bonus was, where Manitoba surgeons replace hips by going through the side and having to cut through the various tissues, the procedure in Alberta goes through the front and just pushes those things aside.
"The recovery time is much faster," she said. "I don't know why they don't do it here... The surgeon in Calgary said my hips were mush and that I'd made the right decision to do it now because soon my pelvic bones would have been crushed.
"I don't know what I'd do if I couldn't afford it."
Maxwell said his surgery would have been up to a year away — and that was before he learned his other hip would need replacement as well.
Amid the ongoing delays and the pressure on the provincial health-care system and its non-pandemic patients, Maxwell said what upsets him most is the eligible people who haven't yet been vaccinated against COVID-19.
"It is so wrong," he said. "I am a little tired of hearing about the unvaccinated and their rights to monopolize our public health-care capacity rather than take a free vaccine, proven effective for hundreds of millions worldwide.
"By the time I climbed onto the gurney I didn't care if I ever woke up — I'd had enough of the pain already. It's just a miracle now."
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.