Wednesday, June 01, 2005

John D'Amico, R.I.P. -- why? (UPDATED)

John D'Amico, the Hockey Hall of Fame linesman who worked for 25 years in the NHL, died late Sunday. He was 67.
D'Amico suffered from a particularly potent form of leukemia. Yet, in the midst of it all, his treatment program was interrupted -- because the hospital where he was receiving the treatment couldn't handle bringing him in in a timely fashion.
"I don't want to be a crusader here but I had to wait 28 days for a bed," D'Amico, whose experimental — and critical — drug therapy to battle his disease, acute myleoblastic leukemia, at Princess Margaret Hospital was interrupted by the delay, told the Toronto Star in an interview published on May 14.
"I just want people to know that the lack of funding for hospitals is wrong. Where do all the cutbacks stop and when does the government start helping people?" he wondered, weakly, before leaning back on his pillow, exhausted, two days ago. "The government has to hire more nurses, more people to help. It's just not right the way it is now."
Dr. Mark Minden is head of the leukemia program at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, where D'Amico was receiving the experimental treatment. Minden says the hospital gets approximately 250 new patients annually, which adds to the daily heart-wrenching decisions he and other doctors must make about who moves up the waiting list — and who doesn't. Minden told the Star that at Princess Margaret, there are 29 of a possible 49 beds open for leukemia patients, who require a large expert support staff because "people get really sick from the treatments." Those vacant 20 beds can't be opened without more nurses, doctors, technicians and other specialized staffers, Minden said.
However, provincial health minister George Smitherman disagrees with complaints about staffing.
When the Ontario Hospital Association warned the provincial Liberals [earlier in May] that hospitals would have to cut services and up to 4,000 jobs to live within a funding increase of $600 million this year, Smitherman scoffed at the notion, saying the OHA has "a real tendency to cry wolf."
But D'Amico told Star reporter Mary Ormsby he is one of the many front-line casualties in the financial warring between hospitals and government.
"I have no beef with this hospital, everyone here has been great,'' he said. "My beef is with the system."
D'Amico's journey through that contentious system began three years ago when he was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder called aplastic anemia. Then worse news hit: last Oct. 23, D'Amico was told he had AML.
The former NHL supervisor of officials and his wife, Dorothy, started trekking from their Mississauga home to Princess Margaret for twice weekly platelet boosts at the outpatient transfusion clinic. By March, he was admitted to the hospital for his first round of chemotherapy.
Close to the tentative date for his second session to begin in April, D'Amico spent 12 days in Mount Sinai with AML complications and could not be transferred to Princess Margaret. When released, he had to wait another 16 days before starting his second round of chemotherapy — making it a total of 28 days of postponed treatment.
"Don't make me a martyr in this," D'Amico warns in a voice not much stronger than a whisper. "If I'd gotten my second (drug) session on time, I don't know if I'd be any better. But the point is it didn't happen and we'll never know."
Are there other John D'Amico's out there?
What does this say about the vaunted Canadian medicare system?
And what does this say about George Smitherman?
Answers sought, please.

UPDATE: The wonderful Habamus Rodentum has a really intense look at medical incompetence in Ontario. Check it out, Ontarians, if you can stomach it.