Patients being denied surgeries that doctors say are necessary to relieve pain

FOX Files

ST. LOUIS – Canceled surgeries are not only impacting people with pain but also potentially those who will need life-saving organ transplants.

Kalli Heise, who needs surgery to treat her endometriosis, said her procedure was canceled with no sign of when she’ll be relieved of her pain.

“There’s a pain in my lower back, pain in my lower abdomen, and it’s just every day all day,” she said.

Heise needs surgery to remove painful tissue caused by endometriosis. Though the surgery is defined as non-essential, she says her doctor told her it’s necessary to relieve her pain.

“It was supposed to be Thursday, March 19 and they called me that Monday. I kind of had a feeling it might happen because of everything happening with the (coronavirus), but I was hoping since it was so close—it was three days away—that they were going go through with it,” she said. “But they called me and told me they had to cancel. They couldn’t give me a time or another date when they could just reschedule, they just said whenever the pandemic is over.”

Dr. Perry Geistler says Heise is not alone.

“We have nurses at our hospitals, now working their tail off, who need total knee, total hip repair, and are battling pain on a daily basis to help serve us,” he said.

Dr. Geistler is a podiatrist who we interviewed about a month ago – prior to the pandemic. Fox 2 spoke with him at the time about his patients he’s preparing for an organ transplant.

“The patient you saw with me the other day, she ended up being hospitalized four days after that. She does not have COVID-19 but she does have a severe pneumonia. She’s doing better now, but she almost passed away just a week after you saw her and I’m seeing her right now in the hospital, but it’s just such a tough situation because I can’t aggressively treat some of these people the way I might, under the circumstances with COVID-19, he said. “We’re just trying to keep things on hold, so we’re going to more of a defensive mode than offensive mode for some of these people.”

Geistler says last week’s arm surgery of Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard sent the wrong message.

“We need to draw lines. There are sports and there are things that are really important,” he said. “What’s really important are people’s lives – and also the messages we are sending out. We are letting some guy go out and get Tommy John surgery done and at the same time we’re trying to tell people not to go to work, make those sacrifices, stay home, not interact with anybody and we’re telling people like your patient you mentioned, she can’t have her endometriosis treated and yet we have a multi-million dollar pitcher who, by the way, probably could survive a couple months without income.”

Syndergaard’s teammate Pete Alonso defended Syndergaard on Twitter, writing: “Who is to judge someone’s medical needs to perform their job? Noah’s surgery, or any other athlete’s surgery during this time shouldn’t be scrutinized considering it is done by orthopedic surgeons, not those on the frontlines battling this pandemic.”

Heise fears she may wait many months.

“I’m just kind of doing what I used to do, making it through doing what I can,” she said. “Really there’s nothing I know of that really takes (the pain) away, because, like I said, I was just starting to get answers.”

Dr. Geistler added that he had to furlough his entire office staff Monday as he sees as many patients as he can online. His goal is to help keep his patients healthy and out of the hospital.

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