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Pam Frampton: Wasting away

Linda Clarke takes a break from raking her front lawn, Tuesday in Chamberlains. The small submitted photo below is from a few years ago, before she started having dental problems.
Linda Clarke takes a break from raking her front lawn, Tuesday in Chamberlains. The small submitted photo below is from a few years ago, before she started having dental problems.

Linda Clarke has gone from a size 12 to a size eight recently. She’s lost 22 pounds. But this is not a story about personal triumph and meeting a weight-loss goal.

Pam Frampton

Linda Clarke is losing weight because she can hardly eat.

As the days and months go by, the bones in her jaws are wasting away. Her dentures no longer fit and her face has sagged like someone who’s had a stroke. She needs $20,000 worth of dental surgery, and at least eight jaw implants, none of which is covered by the provincial health plan or MCP.

She lives in Chamberlains, but if you drive by Confederation Hill Thursday morning and see a slight woman in her late 60s there holding a placard, it’ll be her, and she’s hoping for public support.

She’s planning a one-woman protest to call attention to her situation and hopes that someone, anyone — but particularly Health Minister Dr. John Haggie — will take notice.

“I wonder how many more are going through the same as I am and are afraid to say anything?” she said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I’ll speak to everyone who’ll talk to me. …

“I would like to see John Haggie and let him see for himself what condition my face is in. I know I won’t get to talk to him, but what have I got to lose? Ten or $20 worth of gas.”

I wrote about Linda Clarke in February, after she wrote a bluntly worded letter to The Telegram. “I have been trying to get help from anyone in health care (or) government. No such luck. … This is a very stressful situation and I don’t know who to turn to for help.”

Linda Clarke is no delicate flower. She’s been through a car accident where she was rear-ended — twice. She gone through cardiac arrest and open heart surgery. She’s had peritonitis, and has celiac and diabetes. Has she complained? No.

But when she looked in the mirror one morning and her face had shifted off its moorings, she started to worry.

At 67 and on a fixed income of about $175 in monthly pension ($165 of which pays for insurance), plus Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security, she was horrified to learn she needs bone removed from her face and transplanted into her jaw.

“I’ve seen another dentist, since we last spoke, (oral surgeon) Dr. Shannon Davis, who wants to do the surgery,” she said. “He’s supposed to be one of the best in Newfoundland and Labrador. He told me it’s a big surgery and a painful surgery, with at least eight implants, maybe more now. … A year ago I wasn’t as bad as I am now. The bone is getting softer all the time. And they just say, ‘No, we don’t cover it.’”

Clarke has started a Go Fund Me campaign (www.gofundme.com/for-facial-and-dental-surgery) and is exceedingly grateful for the $215 she’s received in donations, but she has a long way to go to reach her $20,000 goal. Her Go Fund Me page has a picture of her beaming, alongside her husband, Hayward, taken a few years ago — before the crumbling bone crippled her smile.

“He wishes I could eat so I could put on some weight,” she says of Hayward. “He’s good at helping me around the house because I get tired now.”

She also gets down sometimes, despite her natural tendency towards sunny optimism.

The pain throbs from the bottom of her chin up to her temple.

Her diet has been reduced to a mundane routine of bland, soft foods.

“All your gums are red raw and you get a lot of canker sores from the dentures not fitting. The dentist was ready to throw them in the garbage the other day. … Where is our health care? Do we have to go without teeth the rest of our lives?”

Clarke hopes that by taking a stand at Confederation Building, people will have a better idea of her plight and that of others in a similar situation.

“At least I hope it will get people talking and wondering about why I have to go through this at my age and out of my pocket,” she said. “It could end up costing the system more if I end up at ER with anemia and diabetes (complications).”

Clarke said when her dental surgeon urged her to apply for special authorization coverage under MCP, she was flat-out rejected. Yet, if she was in a car accident that required the same constructive surgery, MCP would cover it. We’re not talking cosmetic work — Linda Clarke needs teeth to eat and stay alive.

In this era of fiscal restraint in the province, it makes no sense to deny health coverage to someone for a condition that will end up costing the system more if it is not treated.

Dental health — like mental health — has long been relegated to second-class status when it comes to government priorities, but surely anyone holding the purse strings can see this rigid policy does not reflect or address real people’s circumstances.

Does our society condone allowing otherwise vital senior citizens to be stuck on a slow tortuous path to emaciation?

“It’s so frustrating,” Clarke says quietly.

“I could scrounge $200 out of my old age pension and CPP every month, but I’d be paying it back until they needed to buy a casket for me.”

Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email pframpton@thetelegram.com. Twitter: pam_frampton

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