Uninsured Iqaluit family struggles with boy’s health care

“I don’t know how we’re going to be able to pay. This is my son’s life.”


Some Iqaluit residents are rallying behind a gravely-ill Iqaluit boy whose family isn’t covered by any form of supplementary health insurance and face staggering costs related to his care.

William Pothier, four, has received treatment at a Montreal hospital since April 28, when a blood test found cancerous blood cells in his veins.

Doctors diagnosed him with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a type of cancer of the bone marrow only survived by about 80 per cent of patients.

William’s mother, Martine Dupont, said she was overwhelmed with the support they have received from Iqaluit residents, even from people she barely knows.

A taxi driver started doing “William’s Ride” days, when he donates his earnings to William’s family.

A silent auction at the Association des Francophones du Nunavut on May 15 earned almost $5,000 from the sale of goods and vouchers donated by many Iqaluit artists and businesses.

Donations are still welcome through www.supportwilliam.org, a website created by Atii-Go Media. Supporters have also set up a Facebook site that you can find by searching for “Support William – Supportons William.”

William receives daily chemotherapy treatments at Montreal’s Centre hospitalier universitaire Ste-Justine, a children’s hospital that specializes in leukemia.

He’ll need the treatments for at least two more months, said his mother.

But William’s parents don’t know how they will pay travel and accommodation costs associated with the boy’s care — and they don’t even know if his primary hospital care is insurable.

The Qikiqtani General Hospital’s insurance provider may be reluctant to insure such the highly specialized chemotherapy treatment that he’s getting in Montreal, William’s mother said.

If Qikiqtani hospital and the department of health and social services are amenable, another possibility is to have William treated in Iqaluit for weeks when the treatment is less intensive and then have him flown to Montreal for those weeks when he needs more intensive chemotherapy.

But William’s parents do not work for the government employee— and they are not Inuit— so they are not covered by any supplementary health insurance.

The GN subsidizes their medical travel, but the Pothiers must still make co-payments of hundreds of dollars per trip, a cost that could add up to thousands of dollars over time.

“I don’t know how we’re going to be able to pay that. This is my son’s life,” Dupont said.

Employees of government and some large businesses can draw on supplementary insurance to cover travel and other ancillary health care costs.

Inuit get similar coverage through the federal Non-Insured Health Benefits program.

“Why, after so many years, are not all equal for treatment and health care? We don’t want to start a big fight, but it should be equal,” said Dupont, who has lived in Iqaluit seven years and plans to stay permanently in the city.

“Our kids are all born over there,” she said “It’s home for us.”

The situation is further complicated because Ste-Justine is not a hospital which normally treats patients from Nunavut.

William is there because that’s where he was sent after his grandmother – a lab technician –discovered his condition after doing a blood test.

With his treatment now underway, Sainte-Justine doctors are unwilling to transfer William to another hospital with less specialized facilities.

William’s father Louis-Philip Pothier, Dupont, and their younger sons Victor, two, and Arthur, five months, have been staying at the Ronald McDonald House behind Ste-Justine.

Both parents have relatives who live in towns more than an hour’s drive outside Montreal, but they have few connections to the city itself.

So the two take turns looking after William in his hospital room and caring for their younger sons at the boarding home.

William’s brothers can seldom visit him because his immune system is weak from the toxic chemotherapy drugs. This means that if he caught the flu from his brothers, it would complicate his treatment.

“I wish I could copy myself, clone myself, so one of me can be with my sick son, another one that can do paperwork, and another to look after my other two sons, and another to be with my husband,” Dupont said.

In the meantime, the Pothiers’ Apex home is vacant and their two dog teams – 22 animals – are in the care of friends.

“What we want is to go back home as soon as we can,” Dupont said.

But there are problems with the plan to transfer some of William’s treatment from Ste-Justine’s to doctors at the Qikiqtani hospital.

For one thing, this facility may lack the laboratory equipment necessary to prepare William’s chemotherapy drugs

These drugs are toxic chemicals that treat cancer by killing cancerous cells, but also make the patient ill and weak.

And, if the drugs can’t be prepared in Iqaluit, it’s not clear if the drugs are stable enough to be transported by air, Dupont said.

Even if the drugs can be shipped up, if flights were ever cancelled due to bad weather, William would not be able to get chemotherapy until the weather clears. This could affect the odds of his survival.

Then there’s the question of liability. The Qikiqtani General Hospital has no medical specialists for cancer and blood on staff.

That means a pediatrician would have to administer William’s chemotherapy.

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