Northern Clinics Program Changes a Life
Living in Northern Ontario has its privileges. Breathtaking scenery, caring communities and the dazzling Northern Lights are just some of the benefits of making a home in the province’s uppermost reaches. But for people with health challenges, living in remote northern Ontario towns can mean long trips with heavy financial burdens while trying to receive proper treatment.
One of March of Dimes’ longest-running programs, operating since the 1950s, the Northern Medical Clinic has sent rheumatologists and orthopaedic surgeons from Toronto and other centres to Northern Ontario towns such as Cochrane, Hearst and Kirkland Lake, to care for people who do not have specialists in their communities. There is no age limit for the patients; the doctors treat babies through to seniors.
Every year the Northern Medical Clinics save hundreds of northern Ontario patients the time, trouble and expense of travelling to distant cities to see medical specialists and receive treatments.
Cochrane resident Beatrice (Bee) Berthiaume and her youngest son are two of the many beneficiaries of this wonderful program.
Bee has disc degenerative disease, and for over a decade, she had been having troubles with her legs, which had grown progressively worse. She could not put pressure on her legs, was finding it difficult to even get out of chairs, and the pain was so bad she was taking a multitude of pain killers every day, with little relief. She had been receiving excellent care from her local healthcare providers, but they lacked the technology to provide Bee a proper diagnosis. They recommended she visit March of Dimes’ Northern Clinics program. Bee’s youngest son had his neck treated through the program in 2006 and had been impressed with the treatment and care he had received. Bee eagerly made an appointment for the next Cochrane Northern Clinic, which takes place at the Minto Health Centre.
"I saw three specialists when I went to the clinic – all in the same day," says Bee. "The doctors and the care they gave me was so wonderful. I was examined from head to toe and received the same diagnosis each time – that I needed a hip replacement," says Bee.
Thanks to help from Brenda Sisco, the Northern Medical Clinic Coordinator who oversees the program out of Cochrane, Bee was examined by Dr. Syd Gershon, a rheumatologist, Dr. Michael Ford, a spine surgeon and Dr. Frank Mastrogiacomo, a hip and knee surgeon.
Within three months Bee had her hip replacement surgery in Toronto at the Toronto East General Hospital, which was performed by Dr. Mastrogiacomo.
Since her surgery she hasn’t taken one painkiller – and the surgery was the only time she has had to leave Cochrane – she hasn’t been back to Toronto since.
"All my follow-up appointments have been at home – the doctors have been so super and my treatment has been wonderful," says Bee.
"March of Dimes is a great organization and this program is really doing amazing things," says Bee. "There is a three year waiting list to see an orthopedic surgeon in the North – the fact that the doctors come to us makes a huge difference – it saves time, money and stress," she continues.
Bee has been feeling great since her hip replacement and believes were it not for March of Dimes she would still be in daily pain with completely restricted mobility.
"I recommend March of Dimes to everyone – so many people are helped by the Northern Medical Clinics – they really make a difference in the community."
The Northern Clinics program is funded by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, donations raised by the Daughters of Isabella in Cochrane, the Porcupine United Way, the doctors who donate their OHIP fees to the clinic and annual donors to March of Dimes.