Terry Coventry, a Yukoner with kidney failure who chose coming home to die in Whitehorse over staying in Vancouver to receive life-preserving hemodialysis treatment, has died.
The former cobbler, trapper and carver, who hoped his situation would persuade the Yukon government to offer in-hospital hemodialysis locally, died at Whitehorse General Hospital in the early morning of Jan. 3.
He was 74.
“Terry has gone peacefully and the way that he wanted to, and that gives me a great deal of joy,” his sister, Kelly, said in a phone interview Jan. 6.
“It also gives me a great deal of joy knowing we were able to kind of tick all of the boxes that he wanted to get accomplished before his passing and the only thing left is getting a hemodialysis machine here in the Yukon.”
Coventry’s kidneys failed following a surgery in 2019, and he required hemodialysis — essentially, a treatment that sees a machine clean a patient’s blood in the place of their kidneys — to stay alive.
No hospitals in the Yukon offer the treatment, and Coventry was not eligible for an at-home hemodialysis kit available through the B.C. Renal Agency.
He was living at a Vancouver hospital receiving treatment from July until early December 2019, when he opted to return to the Yukon to spend his final days in the company of friends and family rather than continuing what he said was a lonely existence in British Columbia.
Coventry received his last hemodialysis on Dec. 7, 2019, and landed back in Whitehorse the following day.
Speaking to media from his hospital bed on Dec. 10, 2019, Coventry said he was “happier than a pig in poo” to be home, and that while it was too late for him, he hoped that by speaking out, the Yukon government would make hemodialysis available, locally, for people coming after him.
“I’m not afraid (of dying),” he told reporters. “I’m just kind of pissed off that there’s nothing they can do for me … 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.”
Department of Health and Social Services spokesperson Patricia Living previously told the News that “there is not enough volume to substantiate offering the treatment within Yukon,” noting that there were “10 or less” Yukon patients requiring hemodialysis.
Kelly said her brother remained in high spirits throughout December, receiving “hundreds” of visits from friends as well as phone calls from people across Canada who had heard about his situation.
Coventry also had the opportunity to visit his apartment for a few hours, Kelly said, and they also spent New Year’s Eve together in his hospital room, where they watched the fireworks from his room window; he was “pretty pleased with himself” that he had managed to make it to 2020.
Kelly last saw her brother the evening of Jan. 2, describing him as “very, very non-responsive and sleepy.” Still, she said, receiving the call from the hospital a few hours later was “a little surprising” because Coventry had still been eating, drinking and urinating — doctors had estimated those things would stop a few days before death.
“I could tell that, you know, from his lack of response that it was getting close but once again, Terry being Terry, went out and did it his way,” she said. “All of the signs that they told us to kind of watch for which would lead closer to the end of his time didn’t seem to be there.”
Coventry lived far beyond the eight days doctors estimated he had left following his last hemodialysis, “which was very pleasing for Terry and of course for us to have him with us for that much longer than was expected,” Kelly said.
While she’s still sorting out his affairs — there will be no public memorial, as Coventry wanted to see and celebrate with people while he was alive — Kelly said she plans on continuing the fight to have in-hospital hemodialysis brought to the Yukon.
“The success is going to have a hemodialysis machine here in the Yukon so that people don’t have to experience what he experienced and when that happens, and I say when, not if …. then Terry’s last wish will be completed,” she said.
“Hopefully things will move quickly once everything is settled and I can sort of get the push on again.”
Yukon NDP leader Kate White, a friend of Coventry’s and a longtime advocate for having hemodialysis brought to Yukon hospitals, said that she plans on raising the issue in the legislative assembly again during the spring sitting. The Yukon government, she said, should be taking more than monetary costs into account when deciding whether to offer a treatment in-territory — there’s also the human cost of requiring people to leave their homes and support systems in order to get medical care.
“The unfortunate truth is, Terry wasn’t the first to die and he won’t be the last to die until we make that decision as a territory that this is important to us,” she said in a phone interview Jan. 7.
“… Sadly people went before him and people will go after him for the same reason and I believe that people should be allowed to get that treatment close to home.”
Coventry, she added, died like he lived — on his own terms, something she said was “a really beautiful thing to witness.”
“I think one of the points to take away from the whole thing,” White said, “is that he took a really, really powerful last stand, an inspiring last stand, because not only did he come home to die but he shared it with people and I don’t think that was easy but it was really important.”
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org