Liver transplant ‘misunderstanding’ means there’s still hope for David Dennis

David Dennis could get a new liver in time to save his life after all.

What a provincial health agency is calling a “misunderstanding” led the 44-year-old father of five from Nuu-chah-nulth Nation in to file a human rights complaint in B.C. over a transplant policy he believed required six months’ abstinence of patients; Dennis has only been sober two months.

Dennis has said he could die within a month and has been struggling to tell his children he may not be in their lives much longer.

Ed Ferre, provincial operations director at B.C. Transplant, told APTN News Thursday that the agency, which oversees B.C.’s organ donor registry, has been in contact with Dennis and “can confirm that the process for transplant assessment is underway.

“Unfortunately in this situation, we believe there was a misunderstanding of the guidelines and processes around liver transplantation and we apologize for any upset caused,” Ferre said.

Dennis said when he saw doctors in early June, there was discussion of a transplant but that he wasn’t assured of any processes or outcomes.

“I didn’t leave with a clear understanding of anything,” he told APTN by phone Thursday evening.

After being notified Wednesday evening of the confusion, Dennis said that on Thursday he “had a huge amount of blood taken” for testing, and that he was given an appointment for an electrocardiogram (EKG).

“The process has started,” he said, explaining he is “joyfully pessimistic”.

But Dennis has been through a lot in recent weeks and has lost time and energy fighting for Indigenous peoples’ rights.

In his joint-human rights complaint with the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and the Frank Paul Society, he argued the abstinence policy “has an adverse impact [and] discriminatory effect limiting Indigenous people and people of Indigenous ancestry from receiving liver transplants as they suffer higher rates of alcohol use disorders than the general public as the direct result of historic colonial and racist policies implemented at all levels of Canadian government.”

During a press conference earlier this week Dennis called the abstinence policy a “lethal form of racism.”

Now he says the confusion around policies for life-saving medical procedures points to a need for greater clarity in B.C.’s health care system.

Dr. Eric Yoshida, a transplant hepatologist and member of the liver transplant team at Vancouver’s General Hospital, told APTN Thursday that discussions among the hospital’s transplant team last summer led to a decision to abolish the abstinence policy.

“Over the past few years there has been increasing research suggesting that the six-month rule is not predictive of survival after a liver transplant, which means that those who were abstinent for six months versus those who were not abstinent for six months — there was no excess mortality,” he said.

Yoshida and Ferre both said the six-month abstinence rule was repealed from hospitals’ transplant policies in May of this year.

“I personally believe everybody should be given a fair chance,” Yoshida said, explaining there are still “circumstances that are sometimes out of people’s control.”

Though happy with the prospect of a receiving a new liver, Dennis said he’s “upset about this misunderstanding,” and that he “will be having a meeting with the powers that be.

“I lost some time and there’s still a great chance that I can get super sick any day,” he said. “This is not saving my life yet; what saves my life is when the operation happens and I get to a year of recovery.”