November 3 marked a year since Lennie Critch, his partner Denise Avery, and the couple’s daughter Kennedi uprooted from their home in Shoal Harbour to Toronto, where Critch awaited a new lease on life in the form of a double-lung transplant.
After two false alarms, Critch received his new lungs at the Toronto General Hospital in February. However, since returning home in May, the financial burden on the family continues.
Critch is from Hillview, Trinity Bay. He turns 49 on Nov. 15. He was diagnosed with a genetic lung disease called pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) in 2010. The only cure – a double-lung transplant.
In preparing for the trip to Toronto in 2016, Critch’s family and friends reached out to the community for financial help.
Since the transplant, he now needs to be assessed at Toronto General every three months – hence, the fundraisers continue.
Avery has been sharing her family’s story on Facebook. She wears her heart on her sleeve in doing so.
“It is tearing at my heart and it really saddens our family to know that Lennie may not get to his appointments in Toronto in a week or so to have his nine-month lung transplant assessment done,” she wrote on Nov. 2.
While Critch is doing well and longs to get back to work eventually – which won’t happen until sometime after his one-year assessment in February 2018 – Avery said the assessments are extremely important and determine if his body is rejecting his new lungs.
Tests and medical procedures are conducted over several days, Avery said. One of the tests – a lung biopsy – cannot be undertaken unless Critch has a support person/escort with him, as he will need to be closely monitored for 24 hours after his release from hospital.
“There’s a possibility of his lungs collapsing, weakness, breathing problems or bleeding,” Avery said during a recent phone interview.
While Hope Air pays for Critch’s travel to and from Toronto, Avery said they have to come up with the money for an escort to travel with him.
Hope Air provides free flights for low-income Canadians who must travel far from home for vital medical appointments.
The overall cost for the trip is about $3,000, Avery said, which includes the flight for the support person, hotels, taxis, meals and other expenses.
“We do get a small refund (from the provincial government) but not near enough to cover the expenses we have for those out-of- province assessments,” she said.
A statement provided by the Department of Health and Community Services touts the provincial Medical Travel Assistance Program (MTAP) as “one of the most generous in the country.”
The program provides financial assistance to beneficiaries of the Medical Care Plan (MCP) who incur substantial out-of-pocket travel costs to access specialized insured medical services not available in their immediate area of residence and/or within the province.
According to the statement, when the referring specialist signs the MTAP application stating an escort is required, the program assists with the associated travel expenses related to the escort. The escort must share accommodations unless the patient is hospitalized, and travel expenses for escort must originate from the patient’s home community.
Avery works 20 hours a week, and Critch gets a monthly disability payment.
Avery said the money the family received from donations to an earlier online GoFundMe initiative was exhausted several months ago when Critch and a support person travelled to Toronto for his six-month check-up.
Thanks to family, friends and support from the community, the fundraisers continue.
The family was touched recently when the winner of a 50/50 draw that Jennifer Martin Simmons held for Critch – Deborah Sinden-Ryerse of Ontario – donated her $250-prize back to the family.
Critch and Avery had met Sinden-Ryerse in Toronto. She made the donation in memory of her husband, who died shortly after his transplant.
Martin Simmons has since held a second 50/50 fundraiser, while Doreen Miller Seaward has organized a bake sale to take place during the regularly-scheduled bingo game at the Legion in Clarenville on Nov. 13.
Donations of baked goods can be dropped off in advance by contacting Avery at 709 425 2111.
For Avery, it’s difficult to put to words just how thankful she and her partner are to those who continue to donate to her family.
“I wish I never had to (ask for money) and no one knows how hard it is for me to have to... but we desperately need help,” Avery wrote in her Facebook post.
Avery also thanked organ donors, “especially Lennie’s.”
“Without them there is no hope for a continuation of life,” she said.
Financial donations can be made to the Lennie Critch Transplant Fund at any CIBC Bank (Account # 22-04711, Transit # 00573. E-transfers can also be made to firstname.lastname@example.org