Vancouver lawyer Gina Lupino was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at 38 and hopes to have deep brain stimulation surgery but has considered moving to another province because wait lists are so long in British Columbia. Lupino is seen in an undated handout photo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Paperclip Law, Randal Hrytzak)

Patient says B.C. still behind in Parkinson’s brain surgery after announcement

Lawyer Gina Lupino concerned about B.C. wait lists compared with other provinces

At age 36, Gina Lupino felt her right arm and foot stiffening and tremors starting as she played a snare drum in a percussion band. She would see four neurologists over the next year and a half before learning she had Parkinson’s disease.

Her most recent specialist recommended deep brain stimulation surgery last fall because she experienced extreme fluctuations in how her body responded to medication, which sometimes wears off too early and other times doesn’t absorb at all.

On Tuesday, Lupino said she was excited to learn British Columbia plans to double the number of so-called DBS surgeries, up from 36 to 72 as part of an expanded program at UBC Hospital.

However, she was concerned about long wait lists compared with other provinces such as Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario.

RELATED: Mayo Clinic provides treatment option for Shuswap woman with Parkinson’s

“One of the things I’ve been looking at is moving to another province just to get this procedure, having to establish residency and a life there. But you can imagine how disruptive that is to my work, to my professional life, to my family,” said Lupino, an intellectual property lawyer specializing in U.S. patent, trademark and copyright prosecution.

Dr. Christopher Honey is the only neurosurgeon in B.C. who performs the invasive eight-hour procedure that is done while a patient is awake to target a specific area of the brain.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said the expanded program will mean another doctor will help replace patients’ worn-out batteries, each of which is implanted in a patient’s chest like a pacemaker, as the province works to recruit another neurosurgeon.

Dix said 70 patients are currently on the wait list for deep brain stimulation surgery.

Lupino said that number doesn’t tell the whole story because so many people like her — “a poster-child patient for DBS” — could wait up to four years just to get a consultation with a neurosurgeon before waiting another year for the operation.

RELATED: Standing tall against Parkinson’s disease

“The backlog of the surgery is one thing but the backlog is actually getting the consult,” she said.

“The concern that we’re having is that because DBS is such an intensive procedure it’s not just a one-day thing that you’re in the hospital,” she said, adding patients must return multiple times and that’s particularly expensive for those who don’t live in Vancouver.

“For people who are on disability and on a fixed income and depend on family members’ help for basic lifestyle- and self-care tasks, getting from somewhere in remote B.C. to UBC is really burdensome.”

Lupino considers herself fortunate because she has her own law practice and can accommodate her limitations by working from home or using speech-detect software to write when her right hand won’t co-operate.

“It’s hard to walk, it’s hard to just move. You feel like you’re embedded in molasses or in a pool of water and trying to run, or get dressed or shower or do basic tasks.”

Alicia Wrobel, spokeswoman for the Parkinson Society of British Columbia, said patients in some provinces have little wait time for deep brain stimulation surgery.

Saskatchewan has “virtually no wait list with three qualified neurosurgeons,” she said, adding Alberta has a wait list of six months and employs two neurosurgeons.

Christine Sorensen, president of the BC Nurses Union, said she fully supports shorter wait times and more access to surgeries for all patients but there aren’t enough nurses to care for them.

In a contract ratified last month, the union negotiated a so-called working-short premium requiring employers to pay all nurses on a unit an extra $5 per hour when adequate staffing levels have not been met.

“It’s unique to B.C. and it’s a very innovative idea,” Sorensen said. “It is our goal that the employers will hire more nurses so this penalty will not be paid. Nurses don’t want additional money, they want the nursing staff present in order to provide safe patient care.”

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Rural dividend grants awarded in Kootenay West

Kootenay West MLA Katrine Conroy made the grant announcements in Trail on Thursday

Rossland skiier places third at U19 Canadian Ski Cross

Rossland’s Sage Stefani finished out a successful season.

Warfield elementary school celebrating 70 years

Webster Elementary School officially opened April 23, 1949; open house and events planned next week

Exhausted Rossland skateboard volunteers pass torch to city council

Organization asks council to take over project

Rossland council split on arena fix

Rossland council approves band-aid for arena, while its future is debated

VIDEO: Alberta man creates world’s biggest caricature

Dean Foster is trying to break the world record for a radio show contest

Should B.C. lower speed limits on side roads to 30 km/h?

Vancouver city councillor wants to decrease speed limits along neighbourhood side roads

Lawsuit eyed over union-only raise for B.C. community care workers

‘Low-wage redress’ leaves 17,000 employees out, employers say

Landlord of alleged Okanagan shooter recounts deadly day

Tony Friesen was working in one of the units of his Penticton building when he heard shots

Foreign national arrested in connection to thefts at YVR

A woman, 60, is being held in police custody as Richmond RCMP investigate

Police pursue pesky porker on Vancouver Island

‘This was allegedly not the pig’s first escape’

Westjet tries again to dismiss proposed class-action lawsuit alleging discrimination

Former flight attendant claims airline broke contractual promise to create harassment-free workplace

Man airlifted to hospital after apparent hunting incident in East Kootenay

The man was in stable condition when he was flown out of Fairmont Hot Springs to a Calgary hospital

Police probe eight fires set at B.C. elementary school

Nanaimo RCMP say fires appear to have been set intentionally

Most Read