Manitoba won’t pay for liposuction treatment that helps woman walk

Manitoba won't pay for liposuction treatment that helps woman walk

The Manitoba government will not cover the cost of a procedure a woman says gave her back the ability to walk pain free.

Sandra McCrea travelled to Germany in 2017 to get water-assisted liposuction on her legs to treat her lipedema. The procedure was endorsed by her doctor in Winnipeg and she applied to Manitoba Health to have the $22,000 surgery reimbursed.

After the province denied coverage she appealed, but on Wednesday McCrea received a letter from the Manitoba Health Appeal Board denying her appeal.

“It boils down to money,” McCrea said. “They don’t want me to set precedent.”

The appeal board describes itself as an independent, arms-length appeal process. Its members are appointed by the Manitoba Legislature.

The letter McCrea recieved calls the procedure “emerging” and says there was not adequate proof it worked.

For McCrea, every step she takes without flinching is proof enough: “I never realized how much pain I was coping with until I had the surgery.”

Lipedema, a chronic condition that predominantly affects women, causes abnormal fat deposits to build in the legs, arms and buttocks. The deposits feel like marbles under the skin, and can be tender to the touch and ache.

After decades of living with the condition, McCrea says, her knees are shot because she has had to carry the excess weight for so long.

She has no regrets about spending the $22,000 on the surgery plus her costs of living and travel to Germany for the seven-week recovery.

“[It was] absolutely worth it to be pain free,” she said.

Anna Kennedy is the executive director of the Canadian Lymphedema Framework, an umbrella organization that advocates for patients with lipedema, a disease often related to lymphedema (a condition of localized fluid retention and tissue swelling caused by a compromised lymphatic system).

“Both diseases are not well known. Treatment for them is usually not covered,” she said. “Most health professionals when they’re presented with someone with lymphedema or lipedema don’t really know what to do.”

She says currently rates of lipedema are not tracked nationally so it’s hard to know how many people are afflicted. Kennedy, like McCrea, believes there are many other women like her who are living with lipedema and don’t know it.

McCrea’s only recourse is to apply for a judicial review of the appeal board’s decision. However, she says she cannot afford a lawyer.

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