The only doctor in B.C.’s Interior that cares for children with juvenile arthritis has just retired, with no replacement, leaving families like the Ennis’s concerned with how their children will get proper medical treatment.
“I’m worried there won’t be consistent care. I’m worried this position won’t be filled. I’m worried that if we lose this care in Penticton, that we’ll be going to B.C. Children’s Hospital forever,” Christina Ennis told Radio West host Sarah Penton.
Ennis’s six-year-old daughter, Eden, suffers from juvenile idiopathic arthritis, a painful autoimmune disease that affects her joints and eyes. Extreme fatigue from the disease and from treatments, including chemotherapy, means Eden misses a lot of school and social events.
“It’s something no kid should have to deal with,” Ennis said.
Dr. Kathy Gross has been Eden’s doctor since she was just two. Her retirement has left Eden and more than 200 other children without a specialized physician.
“I’m distressed about it,” she said. “I thought that I had a solution to that that would be much better. I can’t not retire. It’s that point in my life where I need to step down.”
Gross has been planning her retirement for two years and part of that was trying to find a doctor that could take over the practice. An ideal candidate was found, but issues around licensing came up, and, now, it’s uncertain whether or not someone will ever take over that role.
“A lot of the people graduating from pediatric rheumatology programs choose to stay in the larger centres,” Gross said, adding that there aren’t enough pediatricians graduating to fill all the positions in B.C.
Patients from the Interior are now being directed to take their children to Vancouver for medical attention. Not only does this raise costs for families, but it also increases pressure on specialists in the Lower Mainland, Gross said.
“Our concern is that when Eden needs to go for her next checkup appointment, what do we do?,” Ennis said.
“Can they handle 200 extra patients from our area? That’s incredible.”
Puppet show raises awareness
A puppet show is on tour throughout the Okanagan this week, aiming to raise awareness about juvenile arthritis and talk about the situation families throughout the Interior are now faced with.
The Cassie and Friends at School puppet program tells the story of Cassie, who like Eden, suffers from juvenile idiopathic arthritis. The interactive play explains the condition to young students and gives them the opportunity to ask questions in order to better understand their peers that live with juvenile arthritis.
“We’re so thankful to Cassie and Friends for giving Eden the chance to explain her condition to classmates and teachers so she can flourish and encourage others who may be just starting this journey,” Ennis said.