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

Somenos Marsh viewing tower near completion

October a busy month for the Somenos Marsh Wildlife Society

Andrea Rondeau column: Reckoning coming on vaping

Those producing and selling vaping products have convinced a whole new generation to smoke

Popular Parkrun comes to Cowichan

Shawnigan Hills joins global phenomenon starting on Sept. 28

Midget Bulldogs beaten by North Surrey

Cowichan needs more ‘zip’ in practice

VIDEO: Grizzly bears fight along northern B.C. highway in rare footage

Cari McGillivray posted the head-turning video, shot near Stewart, B.C., to social media

Handgun crackdown, health spending and transit plans latest campaign promises

Friday was the end of a busy week on the campaign trail

B.C. woman photographs massive ant swarm on Abbotsford driveway

She asked what the ants were doing? The answer: war

Police arrest B.C. phone scammer linked to illegal call centres in India

Person arrested in Burnaby here on a work visa, says police

Air Canada forced girl, 12, to remove hijab: civil rights group

The San Francisco Bay Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations calling for change

Man from Winnipeg who was hiking alone found dead in Banff National Park

RCMP say the man was hiking alone on Mount Temple Thursday

Takaya, B.C.’s intriguing lone wolf, seen eating seal and howling away on Discovery Island

Fun facts about Takaya the wolf, like his a 36-hour tour around Chatham, Discovery Islands

Resident finds loaded shotgun inside a duffle bag in Kelowna alleyway

RCMP seized a loaded 12-gauge shotgun, ammunition, clothing and other items

Graffiti, calls and Snapchat: RCMP probe string of threats targeting Kamloops schools

There have been nine different threats made to four different schools in the city

Most Read