Lack of access to allergists outside the Vancouver area is a potentially fatal problem, parents fear

When Teakren Cargill was six months old, her mother fed her scrambled eggs, a common soft food that babies taste.

It became a medical emergency.

Teakren was sick to his stomach, his lips and eyes swelled, his face turned red and he stopped breathing.

Coral Cargill rushed her son to the hospital, where he was treated for anaphylaxis and Cargill was told he would need expert help for a severe allergy to eggs.

Eight years later, Teakren is still living with severe allergies, not only to eggs, but also to milk and nuts.

“If a stray Goldfish [cracker] manages to get to his mouth in some format, he’s in the hospital for seven hours, if he gets there on time,” Cargill said. northern dawn host Carolina de Ryk.

If Cargill wants your child to receive ongoing treatment for his condition, including special tests that must be done at an allergy clinic, he must travel from his home in Prince Rupert, BC, to Vancouver, which requires a trip of several days and thousands of miles. of people. dollars in related costs.

Teakren’s case highlights the challenges of accessing specialty allergy care for British Columbians outside of the province’s large urban centers.

About two years ago, Teakren Cargill was hospitalized after he was given a piece of candy at a parade and, though he spat it out right away, had an allergic reaction that landed him in the emergency room. (Coral Cargill)

An estimated 30 percent of BC’s under 18 are living with allergies, approximately seven percent of whom have severe food allergies. There are about 40 allergists available to those people, most of whom are in Vancouver.

That means people often have to travel long distances to get treatment. In Cargill’s case, she and Teakren take a two-hour plane ride twice a year for a multi-day trip. She is forced to take vacations from work and has to pay for plane tickets and hotels out of her own pocket.

Some allergy tests and treatments need to be done with an allergist, which means some patients have to travel long distances for appointments. (CBC)

Dr. Amin Kanani, chief of the division of allergy and immunology at the University of BC, is one of the few allergists in the province. He said some people who live in rural northern areas actually leave the province for care because Edmonton is easier to travel to than Vancouver.

A fellowship program at UBC established seven years ago attracts two allergist students a year. But Kanani said most choose to stay in larger urban centers when the scholarship ends.

“We do everything we can to expose our students to smaller communities,” Kanani said. “If some of them like it, hopefully they can set up a practice there.”

If the province can’t recruit and retain allergists, or any specialists, in more communities outside of Vancouver, Cargill said the government should at least reimburse parents for their travel.

“I don’t know how people who live on minimum wage and pay current market rents can afford it,” Cargill said. “How did they get there? How did they do it? I don’t know.”

The province says anyone traveling to see an allergist may be eligible for the Travel Assistance Program, if they meet the criteria, which includes having a referral from a doctor or nurse practitioner.

Cargill qualifies, but the program does not cover its flights. If you had to take ferries to appointments, it would mean taking even more time off work.

“It’s not a practical option for us,” he said.

The Health Ministry also says employees can legally take up to five days per year of unpaid leave to care for a family member.

But in Cargill’s case, it takes more than five days to travel to Vancouver, go to appointments and travel home. And for many, unpaid time off is simply not an option.

There are some alternatives instead. For example, one of Kanani’s former students regularly goes to Haida Gwaii to see patients.

Some appointments can also be made through telehealth apps, while Kanani is working with a nurse practitioner in Burns Lake, about 200 kilometers west of Prince George, who can run some allergy tests.

But there are still some tests and treatments, such as oral immunotherapy, that need to be done in person with a doctor, he said.

Eight-year-old Teakren and her mother Carol cook a safe dinner at home, without milk, eggs or nuts, all of which could land Teakren in the hospital. (Submitted by Coral Cargill)

Until those options become more available, Cargill and his son will continue to travel to Vancouver together until Teakren is old enough to go alone. It’s a lot, but she considers herself lucky to be able to allow her son to have at least some of the attention she needs.

“Some people are going to suffer immensely and their lives are going to be shortened because they can’t access services because they literally can’t afford them. And that worries me a lot,” Cargill said.

northern dawn8:00An Allergy Alert of a Different Kind

A Prince Rupert mother must take her son to Vancouver to see an allergist

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