Man needing brain surgery among hundreds left waiting as COVID-19 ICU patients increase

Hundreds of surgeries are expected to be cancelled this week, including brain surgery for an Edmonton-area cancer patient.

As COVID-19 spreads through Alberta again, people like Eric Mulder are stuck in a holding pattern.

"The first question I asked was, ‘When's the new surgery date?' and they told me there wasn't one," said Mulder.

Two months ago the 31-year-old had a seizure and was rushed to the Strathcona Community Hospital. Doctors there discovered a tumor in his brain.

"They told me, 'OK, you need surgery as soon as possible,' so they can choose their chemo and radiation options."

His surgery was booked for Wednesday at the University of Alberta Hospital. He took time off work and his wife's family flew in from Newfoundland to help care for him. Less than 24 hours before the surgery Mulder was called and told the procedure was postponed.

"Now that everything is up in the air again, stress and anxiety is right back up there."

Surgeries across the province have been delayed due to a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations. AHS announced Wednesday that it was cancelling all scheduled elective surgeries and many outpatient procedures for the remainder of the week at Calgary hospitals. AHS has to move staff around to handle the increasing number of COVID-19 patients ending up in ICU. In Alberta, 89 per cent of the 147 ICU patients in the province are unvaccinated.

"Last time it was like this was at the beginning of COVID," said Dr. Dan O'Connell.

O'Connell is an Edmonton head and neck cancer surgeon.

"Hospital administration is having to make really difficult decisions in terms of creating capacity for COVID related care like ICU beds. And the net effect is there's nowhere for surgical patients to go."

Unless more Albertans get vaccinated O'Connell warns more procedures will be put on hold.

"Everyone's scared if they have cancer, they're scared, their families are scared. People don't seem to understand that," said O'Connell.

In a statement from AHS, it says that there are several factors that contribute to surgical priority including patient prognosis, urgency and long-term outcomes resulting from a delay.

"We know patients will be anxious if their surgery is postponed and we know the toll cancer, treatment, and any delays in those treatments can have on patients and families," said AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson.

"We are doing everything we can to reduce this anxiety and provide the absolute best care."

Meantime, Mulder has a message for the unvaccinated.

"While they don't think COVID is a big deal, the trickle-down effect affects other things."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Touria Izri.