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N.L. Premier Williams set to have heart surgery in U.S.


Kenyon Wallace, National Post

Published: Tuesday, February 02, 2010



"I can confirm that Premier Williams did leave the province this morning and will be undergoing heart surgery later this week," said Mr. Williams' spokeswoman, Elizabeth Matthews.


ST. JOHN'S, N.L. -- Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams will undergo heart surgery later this week in the United States.


Deputy premier Kathy Dunderdale confirmed the treatment at a news conference Tuesday, but would not reveal the location of the operation or how it would be paid for.


"He has gone to a renowned expert in the procedure that he needs to have done," said Ms. Dunderdale, who will become acting premier while Mr. Williams is away for three to 12 weeks.


"In consultation with his own doctors, he's decided to go that route."


Mr. Williams' decision to leave Canada for the surgery has raised eyebrows over his apparent shunning of Canada's health-care system.


"It was never an option offered to him to have this procedure done in this province," said Ms. Dunderdale, refusing to answer whether the procedure could be done elsewhere in Canada.


Mr. Williams, 59, has said nothing of his health in the media.


"The premier has made a commitment that once he's through this procedure and he's well enough, he's going to talk about the whole process and share as much detail with you as he's comfortable to do at that time," she said.


Ms. Dunderdale wouldn't say where in the U.S. Mr. Williams is seeking treatment.


A popular Progressive Conservative premier, Mr. Williams has also seen his share of controversy. During the 2008 federal election, Mr. Williams vehemently opposed the Conservative government, launching his "Anything But Conservative" -- which has been credited with keeping the Tories from winning any seats in the province.


He's also drawn criticism for his support of the seal hunt.

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Before we all jump up and say "Ah-ha! He's getting his treatment done out-of-country, so Canada's healthcare system clearly must be bad!"


Let's remember that he's undergoing a non-routine procedure that will be still be paid for by the health care system.

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Danny Williams could have stayed in Canada for top cardiac care, doctors say


Tom Blackwell, National Post

Published: Tuesday, February 02, 2010



Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams has caused controversy by seeking cardiac treatment in the United States.


Danny Williams' decision to seek out heart surgery in the United States may seem like an embarrassing blow to Canadian health care, but cardiac specialists say the Newfoundland Premier could have obtained virtually any heart treatment in his own country, carried out by top-notch doctors.


Long wait times for cardiac surgery were a problem 15 years ago but are generally "a thing of the past" in most parts of Canada, physicians insist. Where queues develop for elective operations, patients are routinely sent to other provinces for speedy care, with their own government's medicare plan picking up the tab, they say.


"Virtually all forms of cardiac surgery are looked after in Canada, and I would say extremely well," said Dr. Chris Feindel, a cardiac surgeon at Toronto's University Health Network. "Personally ... I would have my cardiac surgery done in Canada, no matter what resources I had at my disposal."


In fact, he said, patients from the United States and other countries come to the UHN's Peter Munk Cardiac Centre for valve repairs, a procedure developed by Toronto surgeons. Meanwhile, the death rate after bypass surgery in Ontario is among the lowest in North America, reports the province's Cardiac Care Network.


Kathy Dunderdale, Newfoundland and Labrador's deputy premier, confirmed yesterday the popular Premier, pictured, left for the United States on Monday to undergo heart surgery.


However, Ms. Dunderdale declined to detail his condition or the nature of the treatment he was receiving.


She said the operation is not available in Newfoundland and the decision to go south of the border was made after weeks of consultation with his doctors. Mr. Williams, 60, is expected to make a full recovery, said Ms. Dunderdale.


The spectacle of a prominent Canadian politician seeking out important health care in the U.S. is already being seized upon by opponents of health reform in the States, who tend to portray the proposed changes there as a move toward Canadian-style care.


"What a Newfie Joke!" blared David Horowitz's Newsreal, a conservative blog site. "[Mr. Williams] has so much confidence in his country's compassionate, socially just health care system he's come to the U.S. for heart surgery."


In fact, Newfoundland is able to provide bypasses and other common heart operations at home, but routinely ships patients to Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa for rarer procedures, such as transplants and treatment of congenital heart defects, said Dr. Eric Stone, a St. John's cardiologist.


There are simply not enough cases of that sort for surgeons in Newfoundland to develop the requisite expertise, he said. In 28 years, though, Dr. Stone said he has never had to refer a patient to the U.S.


"What is wrong is to create the impression the Canadian health care system can't take care of things," he said. "To get excited about that makes no sense to me."


Dr. Feindel said he is aware of only a single non-experimental heart operation not available in Canada: one to repair a rare aneurysm in the part of the aorta descending through the chest. While about 11,000 heart surgeries are carried out in Ontario every year, only one or two patients are sent to Baylor University Hospital in Texas to undergo the complex aorta operation, he said.


A half-dozen or so other Ontario patients are sent to the States yearly for emergency heart surgery that is closer at hand in the States because the patient lives near the border, said Kori Kingsbury, CEO of the Cardiac Care Network.


This country's heart care is otherwise on a par with the States, agreed Dr. Blair O'Neill, vice president-elect of the Canadian Cardiovascular Society. "I would say the expertise in Canadian centres is quite high and the type of procedures they do are definitely leading edge," said the Edmonton cardiologist.


The one problem area is in treatment of some heart-rhythm problems. The waits for so-called "ablations" to fix atrial fibrillation -- an abnormal rhythm in the heart's upper chamber -- can stretch to over a year in some parts of the country, said Dr. O'Neill, though the condition is generally not life threatening.


In fact, 99% of people with the problem can be treated easily with inexpensive drugs, and the ablation procedure itself has never been proven effective in a randomized controlled trial, said Dr. Colin Rose, a Montreal cardiologist.


All that being said, heart doctors say there have always been Canadians who, like Mr. Williams, are rich enough that they can choose to get care in the United States at their own expense.


"Having sophisticated, wealthy patients pick the places they want to go is not a new thing," said Dr. Stone. "Someone who has enough money can get on a plane and go anywhere they want for health care."


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Why wait when you can pay?


I see no problem with him or anyone going to the US for treatment.

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