SASKATOON -- Heather Henderson is asking the Ministry of Health to cover the cost of a surgery performed out-of-country to remove a lap band from her abdomen after it had been the source of a severe infection.

“I felt like the province was making me choose between living or dying,” said Heather Henderson.

She said a supervisor from the Ministry of Health claims department told her the surgery would have been covered had the infection gone septic.

Henderson had digestive problems starting in spring 2020, shortly after COVID-19 restrictions began. She saw her family doctor and got a referral to a specialist and the Regina Bariatric Surgery Centre.

Henderson was prescribed antibiotics and pain medication to treat symptoms. She made several trips to the emergency department and at some points she was hospitalized to treat the condition.

Surgery was recommended by several doctors and three doctors sent referrals to specialists in Saskatchewan but Henderson did not get to see one.

Prince Albert physicians told her because the surgical wards were slowed down due to the pandemic, emergency surgery was her only option and she was told no surgeons in the region had experience removing a lap band.

“And I had said, if I go septic, I’m not coming back from that. And the doctor said absolutely but that’s the only way we can get surgery here, in our province,” said Henderson.

Attempts were made to get surgery for Henderson in Alberta but the earliest consultation appointment was in late March, 2021.

After receiving no appointments with specialists, Henderson travelled to Mexico in December and had the lap band removed by the same surgeon who had installed it in 2009.

Henderson wants the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health to reimburse her $5,273.50 for the cost of the surgery.

At present, the case is before a Ministry of Health claims manager who, according to Henderson, said the province will not pay for the surgery because she did not have approval from a specialist prior to having the procedure.

The Ministry of Health wouldn’t comment on Henderson’s concerns due to patient privacy legislation.

According to the ministry, around 18,600 fewer surgeries have been performed in the province between Mar. 22, 2020 and Jan. 23, 2021 compared with Mar. 24, 2019 to Jan. 25, 2020 due to COVID-19 related surgical slowdowns.

In December, access to elective procedures was significantly reduced in Regina, Saskatoon, North Battleford and Prince Albert due to COVID-19-related demands. Urgent cases including cancer surgeries have continued. Most other hospitals that perform surgeries are maintaining near normal services.

“Private surgical centres have maintained 100 per cent or more of normal volumes. A substantial effort has been made by the (Saskatchewan Health Authority) and health system partners to maintain services through normal surgical slow-down periods such as summer and winter holiday periods,” the ministry said in a statement.