Whitehorse Daily Star

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A HAPPIER TIME – Many Yukoners know Terry Coventry from his many years as a local cobbler. Here, he is seen in his store in 1997.

‘Maybe my death ... will trigger something’

Terry Coventry will spend his final days in Whitehorse this week after declining to permanently relocate to Vancouver to receive life-saving hemodialysis treatment.

By Gabrielle Plonka on December 11, 2019

Terry Coventry will spend his final days in Whitehorse this week after declining to permanently relocate to Vancouver to receive life-saving hemodialysis treatment.

“Maybe my death, and my complaint here, will trigger something in the government so the next guy coming along can be here and won’t be shipped down south,” Coventry said Tuesday morning at Whitehorse General Hospital.

“I’m going to die. That’s it … I’m not afraid, I’m just kind of pissed off.”

Coventry, 74, spent the last several months at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver. He was transferred there in late July when an operation led to complications and a diagnosis of kidney failure.

After six weeks of treatment at St. Paul’s, Coventry was told he would have to stay in Vancouver to receive hemodialysis.

Hemodialysis is a blood-cleansing treatment that mimics the function of the kidneys.

The Yukon doesn’t offer hemodialysis, with the exception of home treatment in certain situations. 

Coventry is not eligible for home dialysis treatment, because he is not able to live independently. His sister was prepared to take the two-month course on supervising the home treatment, but Yukon medical staff told her it wasn’t a possibility.

Coventry was given a singular option for survival: move permanently to a care facility in Vancouver. The facility would cost four-fifths of Coventry’s monthly pension income, leaving him only $300 a month.

The remaining income would be insufficient to pay for physiotherapy and transportation in the city.

He would lose his Whitehorse seniors’ apartment and Yukon medical benefits.

“I said, ‘No. I’m going home,’” Coventry said.

He hopes that sharing his story will put pressure on the Yukon government to bring hemodialysis to the territory.

He invited journalists to his bedside Tuesday morning, accompanied by his sister, Kelly Coventry.

Kelly called the situation “devastating.” She questioned why hemodialysis in the Yukon doesn’t seem to be a priority for the government.

“We’ve all worked here, we’ve all paid taxes, and for him to work here and have to give up his life because there’s no hemodialysis is just disgusting,” Kelly said.

She said the isolation Terry faced in Vancouver, away from his community and home of 61 years, had devastating effects on his mental and physical health.

“For him to be down there, for four months, with absolutely no one for him to visit and talk to, was when he started to decline very seriously,” Kelly said.

“I’ll admit to (being lonely),” Terry said.

Terry said that when his plane landed in the Yukon last Sunday, the relief of returning home was immediate.

“The air– it was just so great, I could just smell home,” Terry said. “I was happier than a pig in poo to get out of that plane.”

Kelly said Terry has been surrounded by dozens of visitors since returning.

A Yukon resident since 1958, Coventry is best-known for his many years’ work as a cobbler and leather worker, and has a large community in Whitehorse.

“(In Vancouver) there was nothing really happening, just existing,” Kelly said. “Yesterday, I felt he really did have the opportunity to have a little bit of life again.”

Kelly said she stands behind Terry’s choice to die with dignity at home.

“Is it an easy decision, and am I happy with it? No. I want him to live,” she said. “But, I want him to be happy in his final days.

“If it makes him happy, I will stand behind whatever decision he makes. It’s horrifying, it’s been very difficult, but this is his life and not mine.”

Terry is not the first Yukoner to refuse hemodialysis treatment down south.

In 2016, the Star published a letter from Whitehorse resident Sherry Tyrner, which recounted her elderly mother’s recent passing.

Like Terry, Tyrner’s mother suffered kidney failure and chose to remain in the Yukon rather than move to Vancouver.

“We could not stay in Vancouver away from our family, our homes, and my job indefinitely,” Tyrner wrote. “If we had hemodialysis here at home, my mother could have lived.”

Nunavut is the only other Canadian jurisdiction that doesn’t offer hemodialysis.

Last April, the CBC reported that a Nunavut elder with kidney failure felt as though he was “being held hostage” when he was forced to relocate to Winnipeg for hemodialysis.

A similar article from 2016 depicted an eight-year-old Nunavut boy receiving hemodialysis 1,400 km from his home of Kivalliq.

There have been talks of bringing hemodialysis to the Yukon for more than a decade.

In 2005, the Star reported that Whitehorse General Hospital was aiming to fundraise $5 million to improve medical image scanning and bring three hemodialysis units to the territory.

Hemodialysis was cost-estimated at $250,000, and would be the first dialysis in the territory.

A public review of health care, published in 2009, saw recommendations for a dialysis room at Whitehorse General Hospital.

“Current travel costs are great and we are losing residents who require service,” the report said.

Pat Living, the Department of Health and Social Services’ communications director, told the Star in an email this morning the Yukon doesn’t have the population required to support hemodialysis treatment.

“The issue is raised regularly every few years, and each time it is raised, we re-examine the numbers to look at the viability and sustainability of such a program,” Living wrote.

She said the B.C. Provincial Renal Agency, which provides support to the territory for hemodialysis and transplants, advised at least 65 patients are required to support an in-hospital hemodialysis program. The agency estimated this would require a population base of 85,000 people – twice the size of the Yukon.

A hemodialysis program would require a full-time resident nephrologist and specialized nurses.

“We can sympathize with anyone who has to leave the territory for treatment, but the reality is that we are too small a jurisdiction to be able to provide every service here at home,” Living wrote.

She said fewer than 10 people have required dialysis in the Yukon in the past five years, and that number has declined in the last two years.

This is likely because more patients are receiving proactive care, she said.

Living clarified that some Yukon patients are able to receive in-home peritoneal hemodialysis. There are fewer than five patients in need of in- hospital dialysis currently.

The N.W.T., however, provides hemodialysis in three communities, despite its population of 45,000.

According to a 2018-19 report, the dialysis unit in Hay River, N.W.T., treated eight clients last year. This is the maximum number the clinic is able to treat, and the clinic has been at full capacity since 2014.

Terry is hopeful his last stand of advocacy will make an impact in the fight for hemodialysis in the Yukon.

“I hope the government will do something responsible, because I’m dying, thank you very much,” he said.

Kelly and Terry said manoeuvring the medical system in B.C. and the Yukon these past months has been disappointing and overwhelming.

Terry said he felt his physiotherapist in Vancouver gave up on his recovery, and he was disappointed his sister was told she could not provide at-home dialysis.

Terry said he hopes to return to his apartment to spend his final days in familiar surroundings, and hospital staff are working to make that possible.

In the meantime, Kelly brought a piece of home to the hospital: a quilt made by his mother, a Christmas present 30 years ago.

He has been playing crib, visiting with friends and family, and says a friend is going to bring a TV and a PlayStation so they can play golf in the hospital.

“How long I got? Well, we don’t know that yet,” Terry said.

“It’s a new experience, that’s for sure …. Find out what’s on the other side, I guess.”

Comments (35)

Up 4 Down 1

drum on Dec 17, 2019 at 7:13 pm

We spend millions of dollars every month saving drug addicts - for what - they overdose the next day and we save them. I agree they are addicts and human beings but - we have to have life saving equipment in the territory for people who have life threatening medical situations that are not related to drug addiction.

Up 2 Down 1

Davis on Dec 17, 2019 at 12:57 pm

@To Davis and Steven on Dec 13, 2019 at 10:49 pm - I consider myself a compassionate person and care for others great deal. Make no mistake, I do feel for this man and his situation saddens me. I have lost loved ones as well and do have empathy. You are right that it is hard to know how you would react in a situation like this until it actually happens to you. However, I would like to think that when I'm in this situation I will still be able to process decisions logically and rationally. I can empathize with this man's situation but I feel what he's asking for is unreasonable and unrealistic considering the place he calls home.

Up 2 Down 2

Davis on Dec 17, 2019 at 12:44 pm

@YukonMax - You are correct that this man needs life saving assistance now, and guess what? This life saving assistance has already been and continues to be made available for him! However, he is not accepting it as he doesn't want to have to leave his own home to get it. I feel for him, and it is an unfortunate situation, but we all have to have realistic expectations.

Up 4 Down 6

vlad on Dec 15, 2019 at 8:09 pm

@Bnr - Obviously, you do not live in Watson Lake or Dawson; nor those 36 who agree with your comment.

Up 8 Down 10

Steven on Dec 15, 2019 at 3:32 pm

If it makes you all feel better to vent your anger at me, go right ahead. I especially enjoy how some of you have jumped to all sorts of conclusions about the type of person you think I am based on my previous comment alone. What you interpret as cold and unfeeling, I intended as simple logic. It's too bad you couldn't see it that way, and instead chose to make me a villain in a story that you are too upset about to think clearly on. I have lost people to withering illness before, and no, it wasn't easy, so don't go telling me how I have to think. But all of those people chose to fight until the very end, taking what treatment they could. If you like what Mr. Coventry is doing, fantastic, good for you.

Up 24 Down 0

Rhoda Ann Istchenko on Dec 15, 2019 at 9:51 am

This is such a sad happening all the way around. Too bad everything in this world comes down to money! A sad reality that we all have to work with. I try to understand both situations, and can not help but think where there is a will there is a way. Come on people think out of the box. Never mind all the rules, there is a rule for everything in today's world . . What happened to common sense? Amazing things can be done if we want them to... and if enough people want to help. I have known Terry for 40 years and always love his unique perspective in life. I am so sad for your situation Terry and admire your courage and respect your choice. When the time is right for you, have an awesome journey home!I Will see you when it is my turn.

Up 20 Down 4

YukonMax on Dec 15, 2019 at 8:34 am

After a week + of silence from Yukon Hospital Corp. I am very disappointed, but not surprised that no announcement were made that a new dialysis machine and technicians were on their way to Whitehorse. This man doesn't need an election promise for god sake. He needs life saving assistance NOW!

Up 47 Down 1

Tater on Dec 14, 2019 at 12:43 pm

So we have lots of money for things like electric car charging stations ($350000) for the 10 electric cars...... but no money for life saving treatments, ($250000) For 10 people........ I guess it's priorities......

Up 24 Down 4

To Davis and Steven on Dec 13, 2019 at 10:49 pm

Unfortunately you only care when it affects you, your family or children....so sound like cold hearted, unfeeling brutes but realize....when your loved ones or you are sick with cancer, need dialysis or whatever, you will sing a different tune. We are not entitled Yukoners. We have an MRI machine and this machine is needed too. And reality check Steven--many people die in big centres because they are too busy in emergency and don't even get to them. We are all entitled to live. Maybe not you Steven-but the rest of us want to and don't want to die because we have to choose to live in Vancouver in isolation, depression and loneliness or be up here where we belong.

Up 25 Down 3

Hospital corp needs to do campaign for a machine on Dec 13, 2019 at 10:45 pm

We Yukoners need to pull together and donate fo a dialysis machine. For hospitals, you can get a tax deductible donation, if the hospital would agree to this fundraising. At Christmas many people give....I would for a tax deduction and I would give a couple thousand. Too many people I know have died a preventable death due to not being able to access dialysis and stay near their families.

Up 32 Down 2

Groucho d'North on Dec 13, 2019 at 3:58 pm

The entire population north of sixty in Canada is around 120,000-ish A quick glance at on-line stats say 40-something thousand souls in both the Yukon and NWT with Nunavut at approximately 36,000. We are the frontier in many ways and the services we do recieve are expensive and need some form of reliable traffic to justify the expense and net value when these same services are available a short flight south. Our population is so small that something as elementary as donating blood is not practical here I have been told due to the cost of gathering, typing, handling and storage of any blood donated by northerners should this service be made locally available.
I know I bitch about taxes being misused or poor deals being made, it should also behoove me to acknowledge when the public purse is used more considerately. I'm glad there is some thought to measured growth in how our health services expand and when.
Harkon back to how a MRI machine became a reality at WGH. How badly do we want medical technology to be in northern population centres? At what cost and who is going to pay for it? If it is wanted badly enough, priorities will be changed like politicians will be changed.
Mr. Coventry's courageous actions here and now will promote change in our future, but sadly- not his.
Thank you for your service Mr. Coventry, Godspeed.

Up 40 Down 4

Bandit on Dec 13, 2019 at 3:19 pm

Simple math...
Quit dishing out Naloxone for a week or so and voila' there's your $250k

Up 29 Down 5

Long Jacket on Dec 13, 2019 at 2:49 pm

Pretty insensitive comment you made.
Terry is going to die, just like every last one of us. He wants to do it on his terms and that's his right. Where would you choose to die? At home with friends and family or alone in a Vancouver rooming house?

Terry has chosen this hill to die on and he is making a sacrifice you can't even begin to fathom. He wants no Yukoner to suffer their final days physically, mentally, spiritually or financially like he has been forced to do.

This machine could easily be bought and operated should the Hospital Corporation want to put service over savings. It is the Hospital Corporation who has put a price on his life, he's not worth it. How would you react to hearing that one day?
We could help you but we choose not to.

Up 36 Down 3

Miles Epanhauser on Dec 13, 2019 at 2:08 pm

Terry may help other people but it seems so unfair.
We are spending incredible amounts of money on drug users who are being poisoned but cannot find the funding to allow people like Terry to receive treatment in the Yukon.
It seems like the hospital corporation is playing with numbers rather than developing a principle of reasonable care and finding a way.
I hope Terry has a change of heart before it's too late.
If people protest this situation there will be change.
Terry hopefully will change his mind and I think his protest has initiated outrage which will achieve the desired change and all people with this condition will be treated in Yukon.

Up 36 Down 6

Yukoner71 on Dec 13, 2019 at 8:27 am

I guess when it comes right down to it, Yukon is more 3rd world like than we realize and there are different standards of care for Canadians from say Ontario and Yukon. I clearly recall a certain Prime Minister emphatically stating a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian but that apparently doesn’t apply when it comes to medical treatment in Whitehorse. Dialysis is not some new or cutting edge technology, it’s pretty basic levels of medical care we’re talking about here.

Up 33 Down 1

Miles Epanhauser on Dec 12, 2019 at 5:43 pm

I know someone with this condition who was treated in Dawson City by a medical technician from BC.

If Yukon has only a few clients just find a way to treat them at home or wherever they reside then the problem is solved. If someone has to travel from BC to treat them so be it.

Up 32 Down 3

Michelle Telep on Dec 12, 2019 at 5:13 pm

I don’t understand why Terry has to die because he wants to be at home. My mother has been on peritoneal dialysis here in yukon (we are lifetime Yukoners) with my support and assistance for the last two and a half years. In my opinion, although I don’t know all the details, if someone (Kelly) is willing to assist Terry with peritoneal dialysis at home, I don’t understand how the Yukon medical staff tell the Coventry’s peritoneal dialysis is impossible.. this is a sad situation for Yukoners to hear that an elder of our community has to give up his life due to lack of medical services and medical support... in my opinion a life is precious and 250,000 is a small price to pay to help Yukoners who require dialysis to maintain their elder years at home with family and friends

Up 42 Down 6

Juniper Jackson on Dec 12, 2019 at 3:13 pm

It is unfortunate that government puts a price on our lives. It doesn't seem to bother people once they are elected that people die because they don't care..that is the bottom line.. government doesn't care... there is a senior in Faro, dying because she can't afford the drugs the specialist has put her on, and 2.. she can't afford to go to Vancouver for care.
I believe Mr. Coventry is just one of many who lose their lives because they chose to live here and the people who make the rules..don't care. It is crazy expensive to see the specialist in Vancouver on 75. a day.. The care facility will take everything he has and give him back 300. a mo. he will be isolated from family, friends. There is more to life than getting to breath in and out.. and that is what Mr. Coventry gets if he goes into care. I am sure the hospital and government is aware of the need for this machine... they found the money to buy rubber bodies for the doctors to practice on.. and found space for it right away too.. so, tell me again there isn't any money for this machine.

Up 56 Down 4

woodcutter on Dec 12, 2019 at 1:19 pm

Coventry is not eligible for home dialysis treatment, because he is not able to live independently. His sister was prepared to take the two-month course on supervising the home treatment, but Yukon medical staff told her it wasn’t a possibility.

I find this statement obscene. All that is required to make this possible is compassion and the will.

Up 17 Down 65

Steven on Dec 12, 2019 at 12:54 pm

Trying to extort something from the gov't using your life as collateral is a terrible idea, unless of course you want to die anyways. If you don't want to die, there is a solution: get on the plane to Vancouver. But, you and your family do what you are most comfortable with.

Up 36 Down 3

Anie on Dec 12, 2019 at 12:40 pm

Davis, While accepting that there will be limitations to medical services, I think many of us question the criteria that determines if in-hospital dialysis should be made available, especially since it is available in smaller northern communities. In addition, it seems to me that some years ago the Hospital Corp held a fund raiser that included in hospital dialysis. Perhaps a reporter can look into that? I'm sure I remember contributing because I had a family member with kidney failure so it seemed an appropriate expense. I could be wrong, it was a while ago.

Up 19 Down 35

Davis on Dec 12, 2019 at 11:37 am

@Lost In the Yukon - I think you got lost trying to read the article. The government is not denying him treatment, they have offered to send him down to Vancouver to get the required treatment as we don't have the population required to support hemodialysis treatment here in the Yukon...what more do you expect them do to??

Up 50 Down 13

Guncache on Dec 12, 2019 at 9:35 am

The hospital corporation won't support this program but has no problem spending how much money on drug addicts and saving their lives every week. Talk about a screwed up system. Let the good people die, save the drug addicts every week.

Up 42 Down 9

BnR on Dec 12, 2019 at 9:09 am

As was stated in the article, The Yukon just can't afford to provide every treatment and service. H&SS is the biggest spender of all the YG departments. That being said, imagine what we could have done with the money used to build and staff unnecessary hospitals in Dawson and Watson lake....

Up 29 Down 24

Davis on Dec 12, 2019 at 8:39 am

This is a sad story but I really don't get why everyone is so upset at YG. The Yukon simply doesn’t have the population required to support hemodialysis treatment. When you choose to live somewhere isolated with a small population you do so taking the risk that you will not have the same amenities readily available than if you were living in a big city. The Yukon, especially Whitehorse, has some of the best medical care in the country, but of course we don't have all the same services available that Vancouver does, what do you expect? Just goes to show how unrealistically entitled Yukoners are these days...

Up 38 Down 3

YukonMax on Dec 12, 2019 at 7:14 am

Best wishes to you sir. Yukon Health is a business and you are broke. Most readers care deeply about your situation and many, many others are suffering in silence as they recognize themselves in you. This article confirms to them how it will be for them at the end. Sad. Very sad.

Up 44 Down 5

Dave on Dec 12, 2019 at 5:35 am

My guess is that if it was a politician or someone in a senior government position had a family member who required hemodialysis it would be introduced to the territory very quickly. Dialysis is everyday treatment that has been standard everywhere else for longer than I can remember, yet in Yukon it’s supposedly somehow above our health care systems ability to deliver? Shameful.

Up 34 Down 2

Sherry Tyrner on Dec 11, 2019 at 8:45 pm

My heart aches for Terry Coventry and his family. It is a very sad situation and it is completely unacceptable that Hemodialysis is still not a treatment offered in Whitehorse. This issue needs to be resolved for Yukoners; it's been going on for years and the matter will continue to be raised while citizens needs are neglected.
Yellowknife and Hay River in the Northwest Territories, both with populations smaller than Whitehorse, offer hemodialysis at their hospitals. It's not about the numbers; it's about doing the right thing. This is a basic life-saving treatment which should be available at the Yukon's main hospital in our capital city.
"As of 2019, there are 63 with chronic kidney disease, but they don't necessarily require any type of dialysis or treatment at the moment." - But they may well need dialysis treatment in the days to come. It is the most common treatment for kidney disease. Setting up the program will take time and resources so get started now!
How many Yukoners (our family members) have already died from Kidney Failure?
How many Yukoners with Kidney Failure had to leave the territory (our home) just to have a fighting chance to survive?
Our decision makers seem to be comfortable saying there's no need for a hemodialysis unit in the Yukon because the patients who need it either just die or move away.

Up 43 Down 3

Patti Cross on Dec 11, 2019 at 7:24 pm

Maybe there aren't as many people requiring dialysis because they've left the Yukon to get treatment. The money spent to build an ice bridge in Dawson the last couple of years could have paid for the unit but instead the money was spent pouring water into a river and the end result was no ice bridge. Medical care is important to residents of Yukon and should be a top priority.

Up 35 Down 6

Lost In the Yukon on Dec 11, 2019 at 6:26 pm

This is so serious that the Minister or Mystery Deputy Minister should be explaining to the public why they are letting this gentleman die and NOT sending out Living to have to deliver this awful message.

Up 42 Down 3

Megan Slobodin on Dec 11, 2019 at 4:58 pm

I question the numbers provided by Health & Social Services. My husband died in April of renal failure. He was to be medevacced to Vancouver for facility dialysis, but turned it down, like Mr. Coventry, in large part because of prohibitive cost implications and having to relocate permanently. And how many patients are held in Whitehorse while their systems slowly shut down pending approval for transfer to Vancouver? In July, a good friend of mine, also facing dialysis, died in Whitehorse. Highly regrettable deaths. So with Mr. Coventry that's three in nine months I know of.

Up 45 Down 2

Anie on Dec 11, 2019 at 3:59 pm

The CBC story explains that a patient must be mobile for at home dialysis, which clears up my earlier confusion. It does not, however, lessen the tragic and unfair realities

Up 65 Down 2

Politico on Dec 11, 2019 at 3:04 pm

Terry is a very good guy, he doesn't deserve to be treated like this.

Up 59 Down 8

Yves Noel on Dec 11, 2019 at 2:27 pm

Are you kidding me!
Get with it Yukon Government.
Right NOW!
Save HIS life, and other Yukoners!

Up 59 Down 3

Anie on Dec 11, 2019 at 2:23 pm

This makes no sense. The article says Mr. Coventry cannot have home dialysis because he is not able to live independently. No other reason is provided. At the same time, in-hospital dialysis would require a full time nephrologist and specialized nurses. Why wasn't this questioned? Apart from the poor reporting, it is tragic that this is happening to a true gentleman who deserves better.

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