Yukon gov't denies travel subsidy for Dawson City child with cancer, in Whitehorse on doctor's advice

Rommel Verdeflor, left, and his son Kyron, who is receiving treatment for leukemia. The Verdeflor family lives in Dawson City, Yukon, but Kyron and his mother are staying in Whitehorse on the advice of Kyron's oncologist. The Yukon government's insured services branch denied a medical travel subsidy application for Kyron's stay in Whitehorse.  (Courtesy Rommel Verdeflor - image credit)
Rommel Verdeflor, left, and his son Kyron, who is receiving treatment for leukemia. The Verdeflor family lives in Dawson City, Yukon, but Kyron and his mother are staying in Whitehorse on the advice of Kyron's oncologist. The Yukon government's insured services branch denied a medical travel subsidy application for Kyron's stay in Whitehorse. (Courtesy Rommel Verdeflor - image credit)

The Yukon government has denied a medical travel subsidy to a Dawson City child with cancer who is staying in Whitehorse on his doctor's advice. The government has told the boy's family it's because there's a hospital in Dawson.

Eight-year-old Kyron Verdeflor was diagnosed with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a type of blood cancer, in June 2021 after being medevaced from Dawson to Whitehorse. He spent 11 months undergoing chemotherapy at the BC Children's Hospital in Vancouver before returning to the Yukon and now travels to Vancouver every three months for follow-up treatments.

His father, Rommel Verdeflor, said the family has had no issues getting medical travel subsidies for Kyron and his mother during their Vancouver stays.

However, Kyron was medevaced from Dawson to Whitehorse again in October when he fell ill. His oncologist then wrote a letter stating it was medically necessary for Kyron to reside in Whitehorse for at least the next three months, in between trips to Vancouver, given his "need to have easy access to medical services."

Kyron and his mother have been living in Whitehorse since, but in an email Rommel shared with the CBC, the Yukon government's insured health services branch in November rejected the family's application to subsidize the stay on the grounds that "all the services necessary such as family doctor, hospital and laboratory" are available in Dawson.

"It's just sad that even with the oncologist's recommendation to be [in Whitehorse] that it was not approved," Rommel said in an interview, adding that he's tried to follow up and ask the decision be reconsidered, to no avail.

The Yukon government's health department did not respond to the CBC's request for an interview. In an emailed statement, spokesperson Claire Robson wrote that privacy laws prevented her from commenting on details, but said that the department "can only provide coverage for medical travel when services are not safely and readily available in an individual's home community."

"Decisions made about care and travel are supported by a review done by multiple medical professionals, including oncologists, primary care providers and other specialists... While we can't comment on the details of this specific case, we can confirm that the same consultations with care providers have been done," she wrote.

"This case was handled in accordance with those processes that are put in place to ensure that Yukoners can access the services they need."

'There will be a future family who will have the same situation'

While Rommel acknowledged there was a hospital in Dawson, he said that the community doesn't have a full-time pediatrician — Kyron is under the care of one in Whitehorse —  and that Kyron's lab tests are typically sent to the territorial capital anyway, a process that sometimes takes days.

He also noted that Kyron had already been medevaced twice, something the family wants to avoid happening again.

"Staying near the Whitehorse General Hospital is easier than staying here in Dawson City," Rommel said, emphasizing that the family wants to follow the advice of Kyron's oncologist. "That will avoid the medevac, that will avoid having delays with the bloodwork, things like that."

Chris Windeyer/CBC
Chris Windeyer/CBC

In the meantime, Rommel said his family's taking a financial hit — Kyron's mother can't work because she's staying with the eight-year-old full-time, and they're considering selling her car to help cover expenses.

If all goes according to plan, Rommel said Kyron will only need to do one more chemotherapy session in April, but he added that he hoped the Yukon government would look at how it handles medical travel applications from people living outside Whitehorse.

"In the future, there will be another kid who will be diagnosed with this condition, there will be a future family who will have the same situation," he said.

"So if we cannot get it this time, you know what? It's OK… But I hope that they can review what the policy is [so] that future families will be given a little bit of help by medical travel."