Local Organ Transplant Patient Faces Financial Hardship

Gary Duke heads into the operating room for a double lung transplant

Gary Duke is doing great after a double lung transplant, though it will be a year before he knows if he’s well enough to work. The Sault Ste. Marie man has been off the job as a truck driver for years after being diagnosed with emphysema.

This past Spring Gary Duke underwent a double lung transplant after waiting months for the call.

In Ontario, once a patient is approved for surgery, they must be available immediately and Toronto is the only city in the Province that performs transplant surgery. The patient must be within a two hour drive.

The vast majority of the population live in Southern Ontario, but for those living outside the Greater Toronto Area, that means finding accommodation and waiting it out until the donated organs are available. That could take several months of financial hardship.

Sherrie Duke, Gary’s wife told SaultOnline.com that they are forever grateful that the surgery itself is covered by Health Care ,costing upwards of $100,000 but the added financial pressure of paying for an apartment near by the hospital as well as paying the bills on their home in Sault Ste. Marie has led to a mounting debt of bills.

The Province helps out for relocation costs under the Ontario Trillium Relocation Plan. That only goes so far however leaving families to spend tens of thousands of dollars for accommodation and transportation costs while living with the unknown of when a transplant comes available. It could be days, months or a year.

Sherri Duke says the benefit does not go far enough. “we accumulated about $20,000” even though the couple managed to stay with relatives for the first two months. “The rent is so high, we had to pay $2,300 a month for an apartment add in the transportation costs and parking and it adds up”

The Trillium Relocation plan pays $650 a month which Duke says is not realistic. “Other Provinces pay about $1,600” Duke wonders why Ontario can’t do the same.

Duke said she has heard of some families that have to sell their homes to pay for relocation. While rent is the largest expense, patients must also have a full-time, dedicated support person living with them throughout the waiting and rehabilitation time for up to three months after the surgery.

Sherrie Duke who had to leave work to tend to her husband and relocated to Toronto during the surgery and rehabilitation period will return to her job next week. “I have to to keep my benefits, Gary needs about $1,000 a month in prescription drugs for the rest of his life” Duke says she wants people to know that despite major surgeries like a transplant are covered, it’s the relocation costs that could add further stress and depression to families facing a similar situation.

“Gary has his health and doing great but now we have financial hardship – we think about it all the time, we just tell ourselves everything will work out and somehow we will pay down the debt”

In a CTV national report the President and CEO of Canadian Transplant Society agrees with Duke, “These people need life-saving organs,I feel this is part of the operation. This is something that should be covered by the provincial healthcare system.”said James Breckenridge, president and CEO of the Canadian Transplant Society.

Meanwhile, Duke wants the system to change for the 6 percent of the population that must relocate for life saving transplant surgery. “People shouldn’t be forced to make a decision of saving a life or going into major debt just because those people don’t live in Toronto.


  1. My husband and I know that financial problem quite well …..we spent 9 years going back forth toronto for our daughter and then we had to move therefor her liver transplant ….if it wasn’t for a group of our friends having a small benefit for us we don’t know how we would have paid the $2100 a month rent …..its hard and my heart goes out to you both….hope all is well

    • Thank you Patricia…Gary is doing great right now and that is the important thing. Everything else will eventually get better. We are hoping to get the word out there about what people have to go through and maybe, something can be done about it. Thank you for your kind words. I hope you daughter is well.

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