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Princeton woman fears she can’t afford to pay for double lung transplant

Province providing little funding for required post-operative care
Christine and Arlen Unrau, in a picture taken three years ago, as Christine began her journey towards transplant. Photo Go Fund Me.

Christine Unrau sits in her Princeton B.C. home, and waits for the phone to ring.

On a good day, she has enough strength to prepare one meal for herself and her husband Arlen.

However, she has to rest during the walk to the kitchen.

Unrau, 57, has a grab-and-go bag packed, but has already written her own obituary and sealed it in an envelope, just in case.

She is on a waiting list for a double lung transplant.

The surgery might have happened 15 months ago, when Unrau was first ready to become a recipient.

However, after approximately 55 tests and consultations, she was informed she needed to prove she had $20,000, in order to cover the costs of living in Vancouver during her post-operation recovery. Otherwise, she would not be eligible for the procedure.

“Shock was an understatement,” she told Black Press. “We had a total breakdown.”

Arlen hurriedly organized a GoFundMe campaign, which proved successful.

“I had 26 days to raise $20,000 and this amazing little town behind us. The day before we met the transplant team, we had the $20,000.”

Still, the process could not move forward, after Unrau learned from other transplant patients that the actual costs of living in the city for between three and six months, while regularly attending medical and rehabilitation appointments, could reach more than $50,000.

“I took myself off the list.”

The GoFundMe campaign was recently revitalized, and as of Wednesday, March 20 had reached $25,000.

Unrau is now ready to leave for the city at a moment’s notice. Once a donor is found to be a match, the team has 11 hours to operate, she explained.

She describes herself and Arlen as private people, who would not ordinarily seek out attention along this difficult journey.

The expenses, such as rent, food, additional medications, transportation to and from the hospital and other bills, will accumulate.

“I am fighting for my life right now, but mostly I am fighting to create change so that nobody ever has to go through the hell I have been through.”

She hopes for help from the province while she is now relying on donations.

She expressed outrage that a person should have to fundraise and ask for money for medical care.

“Nobody in British Columbia should ever have to die because they don’t have the money to save their own life.

“I think it’s my calling to make sure that everybody knows what transplant patients are facing.”

Regardless of the outcome, the couple wonders how they can save their home.

“People are dying because of money, in Canada. The last time I checked there was no dollar amount that warrants someone dying.”

Arlen works as a heavy-equipment operator, but he will be his wife’s full-time caregiver after her release from hospital.

The family has no other income.

Paul Adams, executive director of the B.C. Rural Health Network, said the situation has spiralled out of control.

“Do you have enough money to be able to move to Vancouver in order to get surgery? That’s the inequity and it’s really egregious. It’s one of the most egregious inequities that rural residents face.”

Adams cited the Canada Health Act, which states the right of all citizens to access health care, without financial burden.

“It’s the new reality of the cost of living that has pushed [health care] over being accessible or reasonable.

He acknowledged that charity funders, for example Hope Air and the Canadian Cancer Society, exist and may pitch in. There is also government funding in place for people who live below a poverty threshold.

Adams said the additional stress of financial woes is the last thing a patient needs when waiting for life-saving surgery.

He added there are approximately 150 people who live outside the Fraser Valley Health Authority who travel there for transplant surgery every year.

Unrau tries to stay positive, while living in constant pain and with significantly reduced lung capacity.

She has already suffered the effects of asthma and emphysema, and was previously diagnosed with lung cancer that was successfully removed.

Unrau fully intends to get the care she needs despite the obstacles in her way.

“I just keep going. I’m too stubborn to quit. Or too stupid.”

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Andrea DeMeer

About the Author: Andrea DeMeer

Andrea is the publisher of the Similkameen Spotlight.
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