Kelly Coventry wipes tears from her eyes as her brother Terry talks about dying at the Whitehorse General Hospital on Dec. 10. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Without hemodialysis option, Yukon man returns home to die

Terry Coventry said he hopes the Yukon government will consider offering hemodialysis in the future

Terry Coventry isn’t afraid of dying, but he doesn’t want anyone else to die for the same reason he’s about to.

The 74-year-old Yukoner requires hemodialysis — basically, using a machine to clean his blood in lieu of his kidneys — to stay alive.

Up until Dec. 7, Coventry, a former cobbler and trapper, among other things, was receiving treatment at a Vancouver hospital, where he’d been since July following a surgery that led to his kidneys failing.

But tired of being away from friends and family, and dealing with what he said were apathetic medical staff, he opted to return to Whitehorse.

Hemodialysis is not offered at any hospitals in the Yukon; while at-home hemodialysis is available to Yukoners via the BC Renal Agency (as of April, one Yukoner was using it), it’s a service that Coventry didn’t qualify for. He also didn’t qualify for a kidney transplant.

Terry Coventry plays cribbage with some friends at Whitehorse General Hospital on Dec.10. Coventry chose to come home to Whitehorse to die, rather than stay in Vancouver alone receiving treatments. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Coventry came home knowing his decision was a death sentence.

“I’m not afraid,” he told media from his bed at Whitehorse General Hospital Dec. 10. “I’m just kind of pissed off that there’s nothing they can do for me.”

Coventry’s last hemodialysis was in Vancouver on Dec. 6. Doctors said he would have approximately eight days to live.

While it’s too late for him, Coventry and his sister, Kelly, said they’re speaking out because they don’t want anyone to be faced with their situation again.

“I hope, you know, the government will do something responsible, because I’m dying, thank you very much,” Coventry said.

“… (But) I think through my bitching and complaining, which I don’t do enough of, I guess, people coming behind me will at least get the opportunity to stay here for hemodialysis.”

Kelly, who joined Coventry in his hospital room, said that her brother was just “existing” while in Vancouver, with few visitors and nothing to do. Since returning to Whitehorse, though, he’s living again, a steady stream of friends stopping in to chat and for games of cribbage.

Even the mention of the smell of Yukon air seemed to invigorate Coventry.

“Oh, when that (plane) door opened, it was just … The scent is just the smell of home,” he said.

“… I was happier than a pig in poo to get home, and get out of that plane.”

Terry Coventry plays cribbage with some friends at Whitehorse General Hospital on Dec.10. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Kelly said that while she accepts Coventry’s choice, it was “pretty devastating” and “beyond belief” that her brother had to choose between being away indefinitely to receive treatment or coming home to die.

“I can’t imagine a single mom or a single father having their child in this situation and having the possibility of giving up their home in the Yukon, their job … in order for them to have their child live,” she said. “That to me is just not acceptable in this day and age.”

In an email, Department of Health and Social Services spokesperson Patricia Living wrote that hemodialysis is not offered in the Yukon “as there is not enough volume to substantiate offering the treatment within Yukon.”

According to Living, the BC Renal Agency recommends that there be a minimum of 65 patients in a population base of 85,000 to support the creation of an in-hospital dialysis unit. Over the past five years, she wrote, there have been “10 or less” Yukon patients requiring hemodialysis, and there are currently “fewer than five” who need full-time hospital dialysis.

“We sympathize with those who, in light of their condition, need to go Outside for treatment but also acknowledge that we cannot provide all services in territory,” Living wrote. “YG provides as much assistance as we can to support these individuals and help them receive the treatment they need.”

Yukon NDP Leader and health critic Kate White, however, said the Yukon government should be looking at more than just numbers.

“What doesn’t get taken into account when those are the answers that are given is the human cost, the human toll,” White, who’s also a friend of Coventry’s, told the News. She said she’s known a “fair number of people” over the years who have had to go Outside for medical treatment and not only have to adjust to living in a large centre like Vancouver, but must also cope without the support of family and friends nearby.

“You have to prioritize and so I believe that quality of life, in this situation especially, is something that can be prioritized,” White said, adding she’d like to see the Yukon government work with British Columbia to bring hemodialysis to Whitehorse General.

Terry Coventry smiles as he plays a game of cribbage at Whitehorse General Hospital on Dec. 10. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Yellowknife and Hay River in the Northwest Territories, she noted, both with populations smaller than Whitehorse, offer hemodialysis at their hospitals.

Coventry said he hopes to leave the hospital and return to his apartment before he dies. A friend will be bringing his PlayStation 4 and a television to his hospital room so they can play golf in the meantime, he said, and he’s also counting on more cribbage.

He described dying as “a new experience.”

“(I’ll) find out what’s on the other side I guess. Maybe I can go to Valhalla … I don’t know. There’s not a lot for me to worry about.”

“My problems are my own,” he added, “but I sure hope it’ll help the next person, you know? For whatever reason, we should have a dialysis here at the hospital. We don’t.”

Contact Jackie Hong at

jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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