When Dina learned she had a rare acoustic tumor, she never dreamed she could get all her care close to home.
For Dina Belleau, it all started in 2019 with trouble opening and closing her jaw. She went to see her dentist, and then an oral surgeon. She had 3D x-rays and blood work ran, but nothing showed up. It was a mystery.
Then, she had a headache that just wouldn't go away. Half her face went numb. She started hearing a loud, constant sound in her ear. Her balance was off - and she was walking to the left. "It was all very strange," she said.
Dina had tests and x-rays done, but it wasn't until she had an MRI at Sault Area Hospital that they found the problem. Dina had a benign tumor on her brain stem, between her brain and her ear. The tumor was only the size of a black olive, but was wreaking havoc on Dina's life.
When Dina learned she had a brain tumor, she was terrified. Her first question to Dr. Spadafora was, "How long do I have?"
Luckily, Dina's prognosis was good. While the tumor was inoperable because of its location, it was benign - meaning it was not cancer. She was referred to Dr. Andrew Pearce - a radiation oncologist with Health Sciences North in Sudbury.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Pearce would make regular trips to Sault Ste. Marie to care for his patients here. This is how Dina first met Dr. Pearce - at Sault Area Hospital.
Dina started a course of treatment: medication, and 28 rounds of radiation to shrink her tumor. It was a grueling process, but Dr. Pearce and the team at Sault Area Hospital worked hard to make it as positive as possible for Dina.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Dr. Pearce couldn't travel from Sudbury to Sault Ste. Marie to see Dina and his other patients. At first, he offered Dina an appointment in Sudbury - but she didn't want to travel. That's when he offered her an Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN) appointment instead.
Over the last couple years, the use of telemedicine has surged everywhere. The Algoma District Cancer Program has been using OTN for years. OTN helps keep patients like Dina connected to their out-of-town specialists. With OTN, you can have an appointment without traveling further than your community hospital. This makes a huge positive impact on care, keeping patients close to their homes, and their support systems.
When Dina would come for telemedicine, she would first check in with her nurse, Sheila. Sheila would ask her how she was feeling, and note any symptoms or changes. Then, Sheila would bring in Dr. Pearce by video, "right on the great big screen!" Sheila would relay the background info from Dina, and they would have a conversation, "just like a regular doctor's appointment." If Dr. Pearce wanted any blood work or tests run, the team at SAH would arrange it. By the time Dina made it back to the front desk at the Cancer Clinic, the appointments had already been made.
Dina had her last telemedicine appointment (for a while) in early September. Her condition is stable, and she shouldn't need follow up for a few years now. But if anything changes for her, Dina doesn't have to go far. She can just reach out to Sheila, at her local hospital.
Local donors helped Dina stay in the Sault. The telemedicine equipment used throughout our hospital is only there because of donations. Community support gave Dina the comfort of seeing her doctor in Sudbury without having to drive there. Local support saved her stress and time on the road when she was feeling unwell. Local donations made her experience, and the experiences of hundreds of others, better. We can't say thank you enough.
"Everything happened at SAH - I didn't have to go anywhere else, and I'm so glad for that."
Local donations help make care accessible.