Their Stories

Sami: 4 year old, trapped in Syria and denied

Sami was 4 years old when the war in Syria escalated rapidly. Born in Canada to a naturalized Canadian citizen, Sami and his family had travelled to the Middle East for a 2 week visit to family. On the way home they were trapped in Syria by the war. They were denied exit and held at gunpoint. It would be 9 months before they found a way to leave. Once back in Canada, Sami, who is autistic, needed urgent medical care. His face had become badly and painfully infected with a severe virus, his body was malnourished. His mother took him to the Emergency, where Sami was faced with the option of paying $500 up front to get treatment, or being turned away. His OHIP had been cancelled because he had been out of Canada too long. Additionally all our appeals to OHIP failed to have his health insurance re-instated despite the reality that Sami’s absence from Ontario was beyond his personal control.

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Nadia: Age 2, just a bill for $9,000 +

Nadia, 2 years old, currently lives in Toronto. She has lived in Toronto since she was 2 months old. So far in her life, all her vaccinations and medical care have come at walk-in clinics and Emergency Departments. She has no OHIP, meaning all her healthcare costs must be paid for out of pocket. The medical bills are now in the thousands of dollars, yet she and her family also dearly need that money for housing, food, clothing, and transportation.

The rest of her family received their Canadian immigration papers in Bangladesh when Nadia’s mom was pregnant with her. Her parents both have jobs here now. Nadia’s parents, brother, and sister all received permanent residency, and all have received their OHIP cards after the 3 month waiting period expired. Nadia however, now 2 years old, still has neither.

How did this happen? Why did no government official help? After arriving in Toronto, a severe, unexpected family illness back home forced Nadia’s family to return temporarily to Bangladesh. At this time, Nadia still resided in her mother’s womb. While in Bangladesh, Nadia was born. The family returned to Canada a few months after, where Nadia was denied entry. The family was forced to make a humanitarian application for her. The family was stunned. Now, they have legal bills barring their Canadian journey. Nadia still remains medically uninsured in Ontario. In effect, our government has turned a blind eye on this 2 year old.

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Samir: 12 year old denied coverage

Samir and his mother arrived in Canada from Afghanistan as permanent residents. Samir was 12 when he saw his father killed in the Afghan conflict. He and his mother came to Canada with the help of Canadian soldiers who rescued them, and our embassy. Their access to Canadian health insurance was denied for 90 days.

Samir’s neighbours bought him a gift to welcome him to Canada. It was a new bike. Samir fell off his bike and broke his arm. The Emergency Department in Toronto refused to see him unless they were paid $500. His mother didn’t have $500. She took her son home to the apartment and waited for the arm to heal. It didn’t, and in fact, worsened. He could not attend his first week of school in Canada.

When he came to us his arm was swollen, painful and deformed. Our volunteer doctors took Samir to the Emergency Room and demanded he receive care. His arm healed and his pain stopped. Samir came back to visit and show us his cast. It wassigned by all his new classmates. Our doctors and nurses signed it too.

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Tem: 6 year old with pneumonia turned away

When Tem arrived as a landed immigrant in Canada from Darfur he was 6 years old. He arrived in the winter. Two weeks later, Tem began having fevers and developed pneumonia. He was turned away from a Toronto Hospital due to lack of health coverage. His condition worsened over the following days at home. Tem began having trouble breathing.

Volunteer nurses and doctors at our clinics treated Tem’s pneumonia. We supplied antibiotics and breathing inhalers. Our nurses made house calls to assess his progress. We learned Tem also had a serious heart condition requiring surgery. Volunteer heart surgeons had operated when he was an infant in Africa. Now, he would die without further surgery.

We called Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. Their cardiology specialists accepted Tem, waived their fees and took over. Tem is 15 now. He is a Canadian citizen and plays soccer. Tem’s sister told us her brother went on his first date a few weeks ago, and kissed his date goodnight.

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A premature baby: A Big Bill

Zohra and Farid arrived as permanent residents to Canada, from Asia. From application stages to entry, the process had taken 4 years. When Diana’s papers came through, she was 4 months pregnant. If Diana delayed her immigration until her infant was born, their permanent resident status for Canada would be invalid and they would have to re-apply. They decided – as most in her circumstance do – to come to Canada, hope the uninsured period did not create problems, and hope the 3 month wait for OHIP would pass without incident.

Unfortunately that was not to be. She needed an emergency C section for fetal distress a few weeks before her OHIP was valid. Their baby girl – born a Canadian citizen — was premature but fine. Diana however, needed treatment for hemorrhaging after surgery. She received a bill for over $10,000.

It was a bill they were unable to pay. Finally, after being chased by a collection agency, with no credit, they were left with no choice other than to give up on their Canadian journey, and return home.

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Sonia: Malaria and Pregnant 2014

Sonia, her husband, and their 18 month old son arrived in Ontario from Cameroon, as permanent residents. Sonia was 5 months pregnant when they arrived. Like all new Canadians that Ontario accepts, the family had to wait 3 months for OHIP.

Three weeks after arriving, Sonia became severely ill. She went to the Emergency Department with a high fever where she was diagnosed with malaria. Sonia had to pay over $1000 in the ED for care. She could not afford the specialist follow up treatment. A week later her son became ill with the same disease. They took him to Sick Kids and now had incurred a bill for several thousand dollars to prove it. At this point, they had been in Ontario for only 5 weeks.

An infectious disease specialist was contacted, who made “house calls” to our clinic at no cost to Sonia. We provided her and her family with further care and resources. Now, they are established and working in Canada today.

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Sandra: a nanny domestic – no pregnancy care

When Sandra arrived to Canada 2 years ago, she came as a recruited domestic nanny from The Philippines. Her employer fired her 2 years later when they learned she was pregnant. Unable to find work, Ontario withdrew her OHIP. Now Sandra resides in a Scarborough shelter. She is unable to access medical care for her pregnancy and delivery, as she simply can’t afford it. In lieu, she is being provided pregnancy care by the midwives who support us.

The risks for prematurity and death for a mother and her newborn rises 7 fold when the mother is uninsured and new to the country. The social and health costs of raising a premature child to age 18 can approach a million dollars, sometimes more. The cost for antenatal pregnancy care is often less than a thousand dollars.

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Krishna: a treacherous refugee journey

Krishna escaped to Canada when drug gangs and civil war ravaged her nation. She sustained a gunshot wound to the head that left her with paralysis on one half of her body. Krishna was a social worker when she applied for refugee safety in Canada. Her application was turned down despite being threatened with death if she returned to her country. Krishna subsequently made a humanitarian application, which was also denied. She was denied access to Canadian health insurance and lived in poverty in Canada, alone.

Despite suffering from seizures and walking with difficulty Krishna was accepted as a volunteer at a GTA Hospital. There, she helped patients find their way to appointments, and she translated for patients as well.

Krishna met a Canadian man who decided to sponsor Krishna in return for “favours”. She became pregnant. She was abused physically and repeatedly, and was injured further. Krishna landed in a women’s shelter. With no health insurance, a stack of medical bills, a fractured and dislocated shoulder that could not be treated without health coverage, and nowhere to go for care, she came to our Centre’s Community Volunteer Clinics where doctors and nurses began to treat her. We began to work with her to find specialists and lawyers.

In 2015, after 11 years in Canada Krishna received her permanent residence and her provincial health card. Krishna still volunteers at the community hospital and cares for Michelle, her baby girl. She will have corrective surgery later this year.

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