Whitehorse woman traveling back and forth to Vancouver for hemodialysis

Dawn Jennings at the Yukon NDP offices in Whitehorse. Jennings is fighting to get in-centre hemodialysis in the Yukon.  (Leslie Amminson - image credit)
Dawn Jennings at the Yukon NDP offices in Whitehorse. Jennings is fighting to get in-centre hemodialysis in the Yukon. (Leslie Amminson - image credit)

A Whitehorse woman says she's exhausted from having to fly back and forth to Vancouver for hemodialysis treatment.

Dawn Jennings was diagnosed with cancer in 2014. Complications from her illness led to kidney failure; once a couple of years ago and a second time in May.

"I went down for a nap and woke up with a nightmare," she said.

Jennings was sent to Vancouver for treatment. Months later, she's still traveling back and forth on a weekly basis to get hemodialysis treatment at St. Paul's Hospital. Jennings said there is no in-centre hemodialysis treatment in the Yukon.

The 56-year-old requires three dialysis treatments a week. Because of that, she flies to Vancouver from Whitehorse every Monday and returns late Thursday night.

"When you're living like I'm living, it's horrific because you have to go back and forth and you're exhausted," she said.

CBC News contacted Yukon's Department of Health and Social Services for comment, but a spokesperson said they wouldn't be able to respond by publication time.

At-home treatment not feasible

Jennings said she was given the option to administer hemodialysis treatments herself at home. She said she took training in B.C. to do that, but seven weeks in decided it wasn't manageable.

"To become a nurse for yourself, and with us having power outages and water issues," she said, "It's just barely obtainable."

Heather Johnson, director of programs for the B.C./Yukon branch of the Kidney Foundation of Canada, said patients often choose to administer treatments at home because it's more comfortable and allows them to control their own schedule. From her understanding, she said, most patients in the Yukon who get hemodialysis administer it at home.

Shutterstock / Salivanchuk Semen
Shutterstock / Salivanchuk Semen

But Jennings, who lives with just her small dog, said doing the treatments by herself felt like too much to take on.

"You can't afford to miss a beat when it comes to, you know, your treatment ... you're just setting yourself up for failure," she said.

Jennings has started a petition to have in-centre hemodialysis in the territory. She says there are hundreds of signatures.

Other families in the same position

One of them is from Kelly Coventry, whose brother Terry Coventry died in 2020. In the months leading up to his death, the Whitehorse man was getting hemodialysis at St. Paul's Hospital, the same Vancouver facility that Jennings goes to for her treatments.

Kelly Coventry said her brother was not eligible for at-home hemodialysis because he was living in seniors' housing and couldn't be monitored full-time. Eventually, he chose to come home to the Yukon and pass away.

Paul Tukker/CBC
Paul Tukker/CBC

"Terry was a very social human being, she said. "He loved people, he loved to talk. And for him to be stuck down there, there was no one to talk to, and no one to see. He became very depressed."

Both Coventry and Jennings said the department had told them there wasn't enough demand to justify bringing in-centre treatment to the Yukon. But for Coventry, that answer isn't satisfactory.

"I've had conversations with several people who do have hemodialysis at home, but they don't want the hemodialysis at home," she said. "They want to go to the hospital and be taken care of and go home and live their life. They don't want to have to deal with cleaning machines and taking training and taking courses and so on."

Jennings said others had also reached out to her to say they'd been in the same position or had family members who were.

"I hope that things can change with the health care for people like myself," she said. "Whether my life is shortened and it doesn't happen in my timeframe, hopefully, it happens for the next person."