In a heart-wrenching plea for immediate action, Brayden Dutchak, the son of Tamara Heppner, a Regina cancer survivor battling severe complications, is urging the Saskatchewan government to swiftly reopen a critical lifeline that could potentially save his mother’s life. Heppner’s ordeal began in October 2020 when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer, leading to three rounds of radiation treatment. Although she achieved remission in February 2021, the aftermath has been marred by frequent hospitalizations due to severe bleeding and blood clots caused by necrosis, a consequence of the cancer treatment. 

The crux of Dutchak’s plea revolves around Saskatchewan’s only hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) chamber, located in Moose Jaw. This chamber, which employs high concentrations of oxygen to prevent tissue death, promote healing, and combat infections, has been temporarily closed since July 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and staffing shortages. Dutchak firmly believes that if the HBOT chamber were operational, much of his mother’s suffering could have been mitigated or even prevented. 

The urgency of this situation cannot be overstated. With critical healthcare staffing shortages complicating the hiring of a fourth respiratory therapist required for the HBOT chamber’s reopening, Heppner’s health has continued to deteriorate during the agonizing wait. Dutchak’s impassioned plea underscores the dire need for immediate action to save his mother and the invaluable importance of hyperbaric oxygen therapy in such cases. 

However, amidst these heartfelt appeals lies the concern that time is running out, and every moment lost could be detrimental to Tamara Heppner’s battle for survival. The article delves into the desperate situation faced by the Heppner family and the broader issue of healthcare staffing shortages in Saskatchewan’s healthcare system. It serves as a poignant reminder of the life-and-death consequences of these challenges, urging readers to consider the pressing need for solutions and support for families like the Heppners in their time of need. 

The son of a Regina cancer survivor who he says is “fighting for her life” is urging the Saskatchewan government to immediately reopen a temporarily shuttered oxygen therapy program he believes could help keep his mother alive.

Tamara Heppner, 52, underwent three rounds of radiation after being diagnosed with cervical cancer in October 2020 and has been in remission since February 2021.

In the nearly three years since, she has been in and out of hospital with severe bleeding and blood clots caused by necrosis — the death of body tissues — as a result of the cancer treatment, according to Heppner’s son, Brayden Dutchak.

“Due to the treatment, her body is really inflamed, which has caused issues with infection, and the healing has been slim to none,” Dutchak told CBC’s The Morning Edition on Dec. 5.

On Dec. 21, Dutchak launched a petition to call for the Saskatchewan Health Authority to “immediately” prioritize hiring and recruiting the staff needed to reopen its only hyperbaric oxygen therapy, or HBOT, chamber in Moose Jaw.

That therapy uses high concentrations of oxygen to prevent tissue death, promote healing and fight infections for patients with a number of injuries including carbon monoxide poisoning, burns and necrosis from radiation, according to the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s website.

The HBOT chamber at Dr. F.H. Wigmore Regional Hospital closed temporarily in July 2021 in order to reassign respiratory therapists to emergency, intensive and acute care in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a Dec. 4 statement from the provincial health authority.

In 2015, a health official told The Canadian Press as many as 24 patients use the facility each year.

Dutchak says much of his mother’s suffering could have been prevented or healed if it was operating.

“She’s in the hospital really fighting for her life due to the damage that’s been sustained by the standard of care [and] treatment,” Dutchak said in the early December interview. He has since told CBC News Heppner is home from the hospital.

There are currently two full-time respiratory therapists in Moose Jaw, with a third hired and starting this year, a health authority spokesperson said in an email to CBC News.

But the health authority says it has struggled to hire a fourth respiratory therapist needed to reopen the clinic amid critical health-care staffing shortages.

The health authority plans to “fully resume” hyperbaric oxygen therapy services when a fourth respiratory therapist “is hired with the necessary qualifications,” the spokesperson’s email said.


Wait for care ‘detrimental’

Dutchak says his mother has deteriorated significantly during the long wait for hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and he wants to see respiratory therapists from elsewhere “immediately” reassigned to get Moose Jaw’s facility running again.

“I know everyone is trying their best, but she is in the hospital and she is suffering,” he said in December. “Every single moment we wait is detrimental.”

The health authority says it is working to recruit and hire more than 1,000 health-care workers in the coming years, including respiratory therapists “who are in high demand across the country.”

The health authority currently has more than 40 job postings for respiratory therapists across Saskatchewan, including one in Moose Jaw.

Dutchak said in January that Heppner is now home from the hospital and is second on the waitlist at the next-closest HBOT chamber, which is in Calgary. She has previously been too ill to make the more than 700-kilometre journey there by car.

That will cost about $4,500 for hotels alone for a six-week stay for Heppner and her daughter, said Dutchak. There will also be expenses for gas, food and parking, some of which the province has said it will reimburse.

Heppner is expecting to go to Calgary by mid-February for treatment, Dutchak says, assuming she is not rehospitalized,

“She’s definitely the strongest person I know,” said Dutchak. “But that’s one of my biggest concerns … because if she’s got to get rushed back to the hospital, we’re back to Square 1, except now we’ve even lost even more time.”

Cited by: CBC