When Lillian Coakley told members of her weight-loss support group that she was on a waiting list of 10 years for critical weight-reduction surgery, they were shocked.
“People are going to die on this list,” they told the 42-year-old Nova Scotia mother of two, who is on a list of more than 2,000 people in the province.
That mid-July day, a frustrated Coakley, who is five-foot-six and weighs 372 pounds, returned home and devised her “Bitch To” list.
She fired off the same email to various government and health officials, criticizing the health-care system for failing those with obesity issues.
In it, she included her own obituary, which noted that her body would be cremated, so that it would not be “carried away to her final resting place by a tractor.”
Someone forwarded her message to obesity specialist Dr. Yoni Freedhoff of Ottawa, who posted part of it on his blog Weighty Matters. Since then, it’s gone viral and Coakley has become a poster girl of sorts for what’s wrong with funding for bariatric surgery.
Amid the responses in cyberspace — where she has been both lauded for her courage to speak out and lambasted for not trying hard enough to lose weight — came an offer to have the procedure done for free in Mexico.
“I’m really overwhelmed,” Coakley told the Toronto Star from her home in Sackville, where the single mom lives with her sons, aged 23 and 13.
“I’m nervous about jumping two borders to have surgery, especially when it’s offered in my country.... Our government should step up. I don’t really like the thought of going out of my country. That’s the part that scares the daylights out of me.”
But Coakley, who only recently travelled outside her province for the first time to New Brunswick, notes: “What scares me more is being 600, 700 or 800 pounds and being stuck in my bedroom and having my children have to tend to me.”
Coakley was referred in February by her family doctor for a sleeve gastrectomy. The procedure reduces the stomach by about 80 per cent and suppresses the hormone that causes hunger.
She also suffers from asthma, sleep apnea, high blood pressure and could be susceptible to Type 2 diabetes.
In Nova Scotia, which has the second-highest prevalence of obesity and Type 2 diabetes in Canada, the current wait time for weight-loss surgery exceeds 10 years. Capital Health says it is working to increase its capacity so patients receive treatment sooner.
“The fact that she’s on a wait list of 10 years for a procedure that will, in fact, lengthen her life, cure her co-morbidities and improve her quality of life really doesn’t speak well to the state of health-care funding for obesity treatment programs in Canada,” Freedhoff, a family physician, said.
The cost factor
• Coakley, who works for a customer-care call centre and earns about $24,000 annually, cannot afford treatment at a private clinic, where the procedure would cost upwards of $10,000.
• The prospect of receiving free surgery surfaced when she was contacted by Saskatoon-based Weight No More Consulting, which links clients with international weight-loss surgeons.