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COVID-19: A man’s long waiting list for a kidney transplant is exacerbated by the pandemic

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Roy Dahl’s suitcases are packed at the door as he awaits a life-saving call – the news that after years of dialysis treatment, he is finally going to receive a kidney transplant.

Dahl suffers from end-stage kidney disease and has been on a transplant waiting list for seven years.

“It will save my life,” he told CTV News. “It will be like winning the lottery.”

But, like many people in Canada, Dahl faces the added agony of a potential delay as the fifth wave of COVID-19 floods hospitals.

“I just got a call last week from the transplant coordinator saying, ‘You’re number one on the list, and you’ll soon have a kidney, but we just need to make accommodations for COVID-19 cases,’ Dahl noted.

So close and yet so far. Across the country, provinces have canceled or delayed thousands of surgeries since the pandemic began.

“We only have capacity in the system for things that are immediately life-threatening,” Dr. Katharine Smart, president of the Canadian Medical Association, told CTV News.

There are no real short-term solutions to address the backlog.

“Urgent things including kidney transplants, other organ transplants, some cancer surgeries are being delayed and the impact on Canadians is huge,” Smart said.

The impact on Dahl is that he has to undergo dialysis three times a week for four and a half hours each time.

The 61-year-old grandfather is Ojibway and, according to the Kidney Foundation of Canada, Indigenous people are more than three times more likely to suffer from kidney failure than non-Indigenous people.

To complicate matters, people on dialysis for kidney failure are at higher risk than many groups when it comes to COVID-19.

A 2020 study found that dialysis patients who contracted COVID-19 had a mortality rate of 20-30%.

If dialysis patients receive their dialysis treatment in a hospital or dedicated center outside their home, they are also at risk of exposure to the virus, due to the travel required for several life-saving dialysis treatments per week.

For those who suffer from end-stage kidney disease, there is no cure. Those who suffer from it must undergo dialysis either for the rest of their lives or until they can get a kidney transplant.

When it comes time for Dahl to receive his new kidney, he will have to travel from Yellowknife to Edmonton for the procedure.

For now, all he can do is wait.

“I jump every time the phone rings,” Dahl said. “I’m still hoping it’s that call from the Edmonton nephrology unit.

Alberta Health Services said transplant services have continued during the pandemic, but added that some surgeries have been delayed by factors such as the availability of intensive care beds.