Alberta has 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Red Deer is reporting five active cases, with 108 recovered. (File photo)

After COVID-related transplant delays, 16-year-old N.S. girl gets lung transplant

‘This is the difficult time now of seeing Tahlia in ICU hooked up to 15 IVs and sedated’

HALIFAX — A teenaged girl who set out with her grandmother and mother last spring on a 1,800-kilometre RV trip to seek her new lungs has received the life-changing operation in an era of COVID-related delays.

Tahlia Ali left Halifax on May 20 after receiving word that medical specialists preferred she be near the University Health Network and the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto as the pandemic continued.

In June, when she last spoke to The Canadian Press, the 16-year-old said she felt ready for the oft-delayed operation, as her energy levels had fallen.

Her grandmother, Judy Robichaud, describes the double lung transplant performed on Monday as “very successful.”

She says the initial surgery to repair two holes in Tahlia’s heart was somewhat more difficult than expected because the heart was more enlarged than anticipated. Robichaud estimates the dual operations required 13 hours.

“I’m emotionally exhausted but exhilarated and a bit fragile after six months of waiting and not knowing when it would happen,” Robichaud in an interview on Friday.

On Friday afternoon, a ventilator tube was removed, and Tahlia began to breathe on her own, Robichaud wrote in a follow-up email.

Tahlia’s approval for a transplant came in February, but after the novel coronavirus surfaced, the family’s plan to travel to Toronto for the operation was put on hold due to the pandemic.

There were also shortages of space at Ronald McDonald House, a charity that provides residences for families awaiting treatments, and the family had to stay in an AirBnB.

Robichaud says the next step for Tahlia is recovery for three weeks and then three more months in Toronto to be near the transplant facility for follow-up visits.

The Halifax teen has pulmonary hypertension, which leads to a lack of oxygen to blood vessels in the lungs, and she has had two holes in her heart since birth.

“This is the difficult time now of seeing Tahlia in ICU hooked up to 15 IVs and sedated,” Robichaud said.

The director of the lung transplant program say Ali’s case illustrates both the reality of delay and the program’s continuous efforts to adapt to the pandemic.

Dr. Shaf Keshavjee said in an interview on Friday that the wait list climbed to about 100 patients as the virus caused shortages of intensive care beds, expert staff and organ donors.

Nonetheless, he says the teenager’s story illustrates the program can prioritize an operation when there is a match in lung size and blood type from a donor and the treatment is urgent.

“I tried to reassure the family she would get done, and she’s done,” said Keshavjee.

“Her story says that, in the middle of COVID-19, we’ve been able to prioritize emergency surgery, and when it was unsafe to do transplants we did have to hold for a while,” he said.

“We’re up to full speed now, and the only limitation is organ donations. So Canadians should still focus on being organ donors so we can continue to save lives.”

The doctor said as the second wave of the pandemic continues in Ontario, it presents challenges for the country’s premier transplant centre. Keshavjee said before the pandemic there was a wait list of about 30 people, but it is now at 80 to 100.

Robichaud says few Canadian realize the costs and challenges involved in the transplant operations, as families must live in hotels for months awaiting their chance for the operation.

She has travelled to Toronto three times to assist and in December will bring Tahlia’s younger brother to visit as well.

“It’s at least another four months … before they (Tahlia and her mother) return home, but at least we are now able to move forward,” she wrote.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The concept design for the spray park and playground in Pogadl Park. (Photo Courtesy of Canadian Recreation Solutions)
Sylvan Lake spray park tentatively scheduled to open next year

Sylvan Lake Town Council approved the tender of the spray park and playground in Pogadl Park

Alberta's chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw says Albertans need to keep making safe choices to start bending the curve back down. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
One new COVID-19 death in Red Deer, 257 additional cases province-wide

Red Deer sits at 459 active cases of the virus

One of the oil paintings stolen from a season home near the boat launch on Kuusamo Krest. (Photo Submitted)
Sylvan Lake RCMP search for paintings stolen from vacation home

Three original paintings were reportedly stolen from a seasonal home

A lone skater practises his shot on a melting outdoor rink recently. As of March 2, all outdoor skating rinks, including the ones on the lake, are closed for the season. (Photo Submitted by Town of Sylvan Lake)
All outdoor skating rinks in Sylvan Lake closed for the season

The Town announced Tuesday morning the rinks on the lake were also closed due to the warm weather

A health-care worker looks at a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Palais de Congress site as Quebec begins mass vaccinations based on age across the province, Monday, March 1, 2021 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Nearly 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses arriving in Canada this week: Anand

Anita Anand says she’s received assurances from the vaccine manufacturer

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada has secured through a deal with the Serum Institute of India in partnership with Verity Pharma at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
Federal panel recommends 4-month gap between COVID vaccine doses due to limited supply

The recommendation applies to all COVID-19 vaccines currently approved in Canada

hands
The call is out in Rimbey to sign on with a group that is all about building connections

‘Already, we are building a network where we can rely on each other and help each other out’

FILE - Dolly Parton arrives at the 61st annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 10, 2019, in Los Angeles. The Grammy-winning singer, actor and humanitarian posted a video on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, of her singing just before getting her COVID-19 vaccine shot. Parton donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee for coronavirus research. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)
‘Vaccine, vaccine’: Dolly sings ‘Jolene’ rewrite before shot

The Grammy-winning legend turned 75 this year

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland speaks about the Fiscal update during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday November 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
COVID-19: Wage and rent subsidies, lockdown support to be extended until June

Chrystia Freeland says now is not time to lower levels of support

Many rural seniors are having to travel a long way to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Stettler residents are being told to go to Red Deer, Drumheller or Camrose. (Black Press file photo).
Rural central Alberta seniors have to travel far to get vaccines

Stettler residents are being directed to Red Deer, Drumheller or Camrose clinics

Samantha Sharpe, 25, was stabbed to death at Sunchild First Nation on Dec. 12, 2018. Chelsey Lagrelle was sentenced to 4.5 years in prison for manslaughter in a Red Deer courtroom on Tuesday. Photo contributed
Central Alberta woman sentenced to 4 1/2 years for stabbing friend to death in 2018

Chelsey Lagrelle earlier pleaded guilty to stabbing Samantha Sharpe during argument

Calgary police say they received 80 hate crime complaints between January and November 2020. (Pixabay)
‘Racism is a real problem:’ Muslim women fearful following attacks in Edmonton

So far in 2021, three of seven hate-crime-related investigations have involved Somali-Muslim women

Alberta Minister of Health Tyler Shandro speaks during a news conference in Calgary on May 29, 2020. Shandro says Alberta is considering whether to extend the time between COVID-19 vaccine shots to four months. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Alberta may follow B.C.’s lead on faster rollout of first COVID-19 dose

Tyler Shandro says a committee of COVID-19 experts is analyzing emerging data and a decision is coming

Most Read