Coalition seeks to build world-class facility for prevention of amputations

By Lloyd Dolha

A group of western Canadian First Nations is seeking to raise $200,000 to build a world-class treatment facility for the treatment of preventable complications of diabetes among First Nations communities across Canada.

The new centre will utilize the techniques of internationally-acclaimed podiatrist/foot surgeon Dr. Kham Vay Ung in the treatment of preventable lower-limb amputations that arises from the long-term complications of diabetes.

Fishing Lake Health director Jim Ramsay said the centre has been established on small scale for the last three years in association with the Samson Cree, the Erminskin and the Louis Bull First Nations and operates out of the Fishing Lake Health Clinic.

“We’ve established a regular process in which we can intervene to attack the problem of diabetes and prevent unnecessary amputations,” said Ramsay. “We’ve seen hundreds of patients and we’ve bettered the health of our people, than if they had stayed in the existing system.”

In the late 1990’s, a number of First Nations in western Canada sought to directly intervene in the prevention of diabetes and its complications utilizing the life-saving techniques of Dr. Ung.

Initiated by the Fishing Lake First Nation of south eastern Saskatchewan, and joined by the Samson Cree Nation of Alberta, the First Nations are seeking to raise the money for the establishment and building of a new Anishnabe Healing Centre for the treatment and prevention of foot amputations among First Nations people.

The group of First Nations formed the First Nations Diabetes Coalition to promote the work of Dr. Ung though workshops across Canada. Rejected by Health Canada and the government of Saskatchewan for funding following years of attempts at communications, Fishing Lake First Nation councillors Milton Paquachan and Ron Smoke approached the elders of ten Saskatchewan Saulteaux First Nations who were appointed to Saulteaux Retention Committee by their communities. In August 2002, the elders gave their permission for the codification of a health law under traditional tribal authority to establish a community health jurisdiction protected by their inherent rights.

Paquachan and Smoke were joined by Samson Cree Nation councillor Emile Cutknife. They formed a leadership team that sought to develop a community-based approach for the treatment of long-tern complications of diabetes.

An elders consultation process was initiated and resulted in the codification of the law, Anishnabe Onushwaywin, in 2004.

According to Ramsay, the establishment of the traditional Saulteaux health authority, under tribal law has enabled Dr. Ung to travel freely across the Canada/US border to promote his work to First Nations.

A diabetes consultation service was initiated. The service provides consultation and focuses on the prevention of diabetes with a special emphasis on the prevention of limb amputation.

Medical studies have shown that the vast majority of diabetic limb amputations are avoidable with simple and appropriate primary care. Those same studies have shown that a limb amputation is often a death sentence.

Since the initiation of the consultation service, hundreds of members from some 20 First Nations across Alberta and Saskatchewan have received the benefits of the life-saving initiative.

The First Nations Diabetes Coalition has since made presentations of Dr. Ung’s work to the Assembly of First Nations and many other First Nations organizations across Canada.

“The great tragedy is that diabetes is preventable and limb amputation should not be an option,” says Fishing Lake councillor Milton Paquachan. “Yet resources in the various provincial and federal health systems across Canada continue to be utilized in ways that are proven to be both ineffective and harmful to our people.”

According to Ramsay, despite the international recognition of Dr. Ung’s work and their intervention in promoting primary care for the prevention of unnecessary amputations, Health Canada and the government of Saskatchewan still refuse to assist them in their efforts to establish the new Anishnabe Healing Centre.

“Our next step is to build a treatment facility so that Dr. Ung can carry out his life-saving procedures and techniques on First Nations territories in Canada,” said Ramsay.