© Star photo by Cory Hurley
Bill O’Reilly sits in his Massey Drive home.
Sitting back and listening to the debate over whether the new regional hospital in Corner Brook should include a radiation unit and a PET Scanner is frustrating and disappointing for Bill O’Reilly.
The 43-year-old family man from Massey Drive could not sit back any longer. He is baffled by the statistics and information used by politicians in their argument against it.
He believes, if the political will was there, an image in favour of the latest technology and equipment would be portrayed — especially because so many people, including medical professionals, are lobbying for it.
Statistics aside — and even as he says he understands the importance of fiscal responsibility — there is a whole human side that must be considered.
“I can’t imagine anybody has ever left their wife, two kids and family, and moved away for eight weeks, and had the financial obligations, and then say we don’t need it or we can’t justify it,” O’Reilly said.
The O’Reillys know the human side of cancer. In 2009, at just 39 years of age, he was diagnosed with Stage 1 lung cancer. His wife Michelle was nearing her due date for their second child when they received the heartwrenching news.
After facing a four-month wait list in St. John’s for surgery, he travelled to Halifax for the procedure. In all, there were four trips to Nova Scotia — follow ups and a PET scan included — and O’Reilly was cancer free. The success rate of the surgery was 95 per cent, he was told.
In September 2012, it was back. Stage 4, double lung cancer. He spent eight straight weeks in St. John’s for radiation treatment. As he battles for his life, he continues back-and-forth to the east coast of the province for check ups. He was there just last week, and is scheduled back again in a couple of more weeks. Although unsure the exact amount he has spent on travelling for treatment, he says it “has to be” at least $10,000 in the four years.
O’Reilly is a private man, he is not looking for any pity, he says. He considers himself and his family to be very fortunate considering the circumstances. While he has been off work for the majority of the time since his latest diagnosis, he does get disability pay. He has availed of the province’s medical travel assistance program, has stayed at Daffodil Place, has been the benefactor of community support, and considers the health care he has received exemplary. He has a lot to be thankful for.
However, he sees it as an obligation to speak up. He’s not doing it for him, he clarifies. It’s for everybody in the province. The system needs change, and the new hospital must include a radiation centre and a PET scanner, he says. He considers the two as hand-in-hand.
“The idea that they are going to build a regional hospital and not put in a radiation unit and PET scanner, it is beyond comprehension,” he said.
O’Reilly wants to know how much money could the government save — and rightfully then re-invest into the capital or operational costs of a radiation unit or PET scanner — through its medical travel assistance program, if those services and equipment were in Corner Brook.
Although unable to find out specifically how much an individual PET scan costs to administer, he said he has learned it is well under the more than $3,000 he spent through travel, meals, accommodations, and lost wages.
“It seems incorrect that the patient is paying the bigger portion of the cost for a PET scan than the medical system is,” he said.
O’Reilly says the same argument can be made for radiation treatment. The procedure takes about 10 minutes a day. Again, he wants to know what the breakdown would be for the cost of that treatment to the medical system.
“The cost to the patient is enormous,” he said.
Each follow-up visit to St. John’s costs an additional $500-$600 for the overnight trip, he estimates.
“I think it would be overdramatic to say, if you live off the Avalon there is a different level of health care,” he said. “The reality of it is, if you live within St. John’s or an hour of St. John’s, your thought process is much different when it comes to your treatment. A lot of the financial burden is removed from it.”
O’Reilly said the second radiation unit and PET scanner in western Newfoundland would also reduce usage on the one in St. John’s — thus lessening some of its operational and maintenance expenses. He also said the PET scanner can be utilized the same as a CT scanner — creating less downtime and further reducing the burden on existing equipment.
“We’re arguing about technology that’s relevant right now for a hospital that’s 10 years away,” he said. “We should be looking at what equipment should go in there in 10 years. This should be commonplace.”