Debbie Dillon. SUPPLIED

Debbie Dillon originally told to wait as pandemic unfolded

Niagara Health reversed course last week and admitted a Pelham woman to undergo a cancer procedure after initially telling her the COVID-19 pandemic would delay her surgery indefinitely.

Debbie Dillon, 57, got a phone call at 2 PM last Wednesday, just 24 hours after news of her situation hit the streets in last week’s edition of the Voice, and other media, asking whether she could be at the St. Catharines hospital at 6 AM the following day to undergo an originally planned single mastectomy.

Her husband, Jason, told the Voice she was in and out of the hospital in six hours, and is back home in Pelham resting comfortably.

“Probably the best thing, with COVID-19 around, but it sure felt wrong bringing her home so quickly,” Jason said. “Now we wait for pathology results and hope for good news. She is well and I am doing my best to take care of her. I am thrilled that all of the attention that this story got was able to get her the surgery that she needed.”

Dillon told the Voice he reached out to Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff for help in the matter, but that the hospital called before the politician could act.

“We spoke and he said that he was going to contact the hospital,” Dillon said. “He didn’t get a chance to do that before they called with a last minute scheduling appointment. Hopefully he can help other women fighting the same fight.”

Dillon had said that canceling his wife and others’ surgeries while classifying them as elective ahead of an anticipated hospital surge due to the coronavirus pandemic was putting their lives in jeopardy. This is Debbie’s second breast cancer diagnosis in five years.

“We had people writing us from all over the province sharing concern, and many told us that they had written to [Niagara Health],” Jason said. “The newspaper stories were also forwarded to those addresses. We tried hard to make them aware that the citizens of Ontario were displeased with their direction.”

Niagara Heath did not respond before press time to a question as to why they changed their mind regarding Dillon’s operation, but they said in a statement on March 29 that all current cancer patients were being evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

“We are following guidelines provided by Cancer Care Ontario for use during a pandemic,” Niagara Heath executive vice president Derek McNally said.

“Each patient’s case is assessed by a medical team at Niagara Health, including members of the Oncology team and the patient’s surgeon, to determine their priority and treatment options.”

Dillon said he is still unhappy with administrators over the issue, but thanked hospital workers.

“Although I am disappointed with the board members, the nurses and doctors at St. Catharines were amazing as usual,” he said. “They really are incredible, and they are under a lot of stress especially now … we owe them a great debt of gratitude.”

According to reporting by Niagara dailies two weeks ago, hospitals in Niagara are prepared to handle only up to 54 severe cases of COVID-19. Ontario government data released this past Saturday said there were 506 people across the province hospitalized with the illness, although critics have pointed to a discrepancy in numbers between differing sources.