'It's irreparable': Parents worry children face permanent health issues due to COVID-19 delays
TORONTO -- Five-year-old Noah Mota is facing long-term health consequences due to the COVID-19 pandemic, even though he hasn’t contracted the disease.
Mota needs ongoing medical care for a tumor that left him with a spinal cord injury, but much of the treatment he needs was deemed non-essential during the height of the pandemic, forcing it to be delayed by several months.
"It has been basically impossible to get physical therapy and occupational therapy that Noah relies on for basic health reasons and also we had to delay getting his new leg braces and seating for a wheelchair," Mota's mother Ivona Novak told CTV News.
On top of delays to his wheelchair and leg brace fittings, Mota also needs injections for bladder control that were also deemed non-essential.
"We don't know what the long-term effects are going to be," Novak said. "We don't know yet, but there will be consequences."
"We've really struggled with understanding how we can continue with Noah's care when a lot of times we're just being turned away because of COVID."
Before the pandemic began, more than 100,000 children in Ontario were on a waitlist for mental health and rehabilitation services, but once hospitals began restricting non-essential operations, more than 30,000 pediatric appointments had to be cancelled, according to the Children's Health Coalition, a collection of children's hospitals and medical organizations in Ontario.
At the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) in Ottawa, more than half of its pediatric surgeries were cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions, and doctors believe it could take up to two and a half years to catch up.
"We are seeing hundreds of thousands of children across the country impacted by delays in care, whether that's therapy they need or surgery or mental health counseling," said Alex Munter, president and CEO of CHEO.
"If we don't act to address this crisis in children's health care, then these children's entire futures are going to be affected and in very, very negative ways."
Kristopher Power is in a similar situation as Noah. The teenager needed leg braces because of a rare and terminal condition, but couldn't get fitted for them due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Power's condition has deteriorated so much in the past few months that the braces that would've helped him to walk no longer fit, meaning he is now in a wheelchair.
"He's suffering with permanent physical damage because of our inability to receive proper medical equipment and treatment during COVID," said Kristopher's mother Krista Power.
"When we received the diagnosis in January, we knew that he was going to eventually deteriorate, but because of being unable to get the equipment he needed, his deterioration was so fast and so rapid and it's irreparable, so it's not like we can go back now and try to put his feet in braces. It's far too late."
It's not just children with severe needs that will be impacted long term. Munter says delaying even the most routine appointments can have lasting effects on a child's health.
"Here are some practical examples: babies that can't get infant hearing tests, a toddler who's not speaking who can't get speech language, a teen who's become suicidal because she can't get counselling," Munter said.
"We're talking here about impacts that are much greater then a surgery or a procedure."
The Children's Health Coalition is calling on the provincial government to make a $375-million investment in children's health care to help alleviate the wait times and offer the treatment children desperately need.
Public opinion is also on their side: A recent poll from Children's Healthcare Canada and the Pediatric Chairs of Canada shows 70 per cent of Canadians believe children will have long-term effects from the pandemic, and 92 per cent believe children need to be prioritized in COVID-19 recovery plans.
Meanwhile, Krista is urging Canadians to follow public health guidelines so life can get back to normal and children like her son can resume the treatment they need.
"I don't think they understand what it's like for families like us who can't get the care that these children so desperately need," she said.
Krista has been posting updates about Kristopher and his health on the Facebook page "Kare 4 Kristopher."