Lack of access to allergy specialists outside the Vancouver area is a life-threatening issue, parents fear

When Teakren Cargill was six months old, his mother gave him scrambled eggs, a soft food that babies can try.

It became a medical emergency.

Teakren had a stomach ache, his lips and eyes swollen, his face turned red and he stopped breathing.

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

Eight years later, Teakren continues to live with severe allergies, not only to eggs, but also to milk and nuts.

“If a stray goldfish [cracker] manages to force its way into his mouth in a certain format, he’s in the hospital for seven hours – if he gets there in time,” Cargill said. sunrise north host Carolina de Ryk.

If Cargill wants their son to receive ongoing treatment for his condition – including special tests that must be performed at an allergy clinic – they must travel from their home in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, to Vancouver, which requires a trip of several days and thousands of dollars in associated costs.

The Teakren case highlights the difficulties in accessing specialized allergy care for British Columbians outside of the province’s major urban centres.

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

It is estimated that 30% of under 18 year olds in British Columbia live with allergies, of which approximately 7% have severe food allergies. About 40 allergy specialists are available to these individuals, most of whom are located in Vancouver.

This means that people often have to travel great distances to seek 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 and has to pay for plane tickets and hotels out of her own pocket.

Some allergy tests and treatments must be done with an allergy specialist, which means some patients have to travel long distances to get appointments. (Radio Canada)

Dr. Amin Kanani, head of the division of allergy and immunology at the University of British Columbia, is one of the province’s few allergy specialists. He said some people living in rural northern areas actually leave the province for treatment because it’s easier to get to Edmonton than Vancouver.

A scholarship program at the University of British Columbia, established seven years ago, brings in two allergy students per year. But Kanani said most choose to stay in major urban centers when the fellowship ends.

“We do our best to kind of expose our interns to smaller communities,” Kanani said. “If some of them like it, I hope they can settle there.”

If the province can’t recruit and retain allergy specialists — or 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 living on minimum wage jobs and paying today’s market rents can even afford it,” Cargill said. “How did they get there? How did they do it? I do not 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 a referral from a doctor or nurse practitioner.

Cargill qualifies, but the program does not cover its flights. If she had to take ferries to get to her appointments, that would mean she would have to take even more time off from work.

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

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

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

There are alternatives in place. For example, one of Kanani’s former students periodically travels to Haida Gwaii to see patients.

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

But there are still tests and treatments, like oral immunotherapy, that must be done in person with a doctor, he said.

Eight-year-old Teakren and his mother Carol cook a safe dinner at home, free of milk, eggs and nuts – all things that could put Teakren in the hospital. (Submitted by Coral Cargill)

Until those options are made more widely 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 provide her son with at least some of the care he needs.

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

sunrise north8:00 a.m.A different kind of allergy alert

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

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