'We're in checkmate here': Filipino family struggling to save stroke victim

Seventy-four-year-old Bernardo Puno first came to Lethbridge from the Philippines to visit his family in August of 2019.

He quickly realized that he wanted to spend the rest of his life in the Prairies, and so he applied for permanent residency through the Government of Canada's immigration program for parents and grandparents.

"My dad's lifelong dream was to come to Canada. To see the Prairies, the mountains and the beautiful landscapes here," said Puno's son-in-law Robin Galang.

"Most importantly, he came to see his daughter and his grandchildren. When we invited him here, he was so happy– the happiest day of his life."

His daughter Berna Galang and her husband Robin have lived in Canada since 2012. They became Canadian citizens in 2015.

Just two months after Puno filed his application for permanent residency, the family's life was turned upside down.

On Nov. 17, the family said Puno began acting very strange.

He wasn't answering any of their questions, and he didn't seem mentally healthy so they decided to take him to the Chinook Regional Hospital.

"The very next day they told us that he's had a severe ischemic stroke and the damage on his brain is huge," said Robin.

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The stroke seriously damaged about 80 percent of Puno's brain leaving him unable to talk or move the left side of his body.

With his permanent residency application still pending, the family tried to apply for Alberta health care after being told by doctors no rehabilitation could be done until he was medically covered.

Unfortunately, because Puno is not a Canadian citizen, the application was denied after roughly three months of waiting.

"During that time, they didn't do anything medically to my dad. They only did nursing, like changing clothes and feeding," said Robin.

With Puno’s lack of health insurance, the family is also facing a mountain of hospital bills with no way to pay them.

Berna was recently laid off because of the pandemic and the Galangs aren't sure how they are going to cover the enormous costs.

"We're in a situation right now where we feel like we're in checkmate here," said Robin.

Puno did not have travel insurance, and when the pandemic first hit, he tried to fly back home to the Philippines while waiting for his permanent residency in Canada.

However, all of the flights back to his home country were cancelled and travel restrictions kept him in Lethbridge.

The family is now worried the hospital might kick him out because they can't cover the overwhelming expenses.

They don't have the means to take him into their own home and flying him back to the Philippines with all of his medical equipment would be far too costly.

"We're just reaching out and maybe there's somebody out there that can give us an option or can help to give my dad a chance," said Robin.

"He's medically stable, but we just don't have the means right now. Or maybe there is an option out there that we don't know about for my dad."

While it could not speak specifically to the family’s situation, Alberta Health Services (AHS) issued the following statement to CTV News:

Our first priority is always to provide timely, effective and respectful care to our patients, regardless of their ability to pay.

We are very sorry to hear about this patient’s recent health concerns. We also understand the associated medical bills may be a burden to them and their family.

AHS works closely with patients and their families to provide patient and family-centered care. Our teams also work to ensure they are receiving the care they need in the most appropriate setting.

In cases where AHS is unable to make arrangements with patients to transfer their care to their home province or country, other government agencies may be asked to assist.

Puno's family said, since he's been in the hospital, every day has been filled with constant stress and anxiety.

They're hoping that by sharing their story, someone may be able to help in some way.