Michigan woman says she was denied cancer surgery due to lack of ventilators

Posted at 6:16 AM, Apr 09, 2020

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A mother from Grand Rapids, Michigan, says she was denied potentially life-saving cancer surgery due to a lack of ventilators, which are in short supply due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whitney Fockler, 33, was diagnosed with stromal sarcoma — a type of cancer that starts in the uterus — last summer. She first knew something was wrong because she would soak through sanitary napkins with blood.

At one point, she had gone to the emergency room and learned that she had lost half of the blood in her body.

Eventually, the cancer spread to her liver. Doctors are also concerned it has spread to her bladder, as well as other organs.

"Pain wise, people always ask me, what does it feel like? And I'm like, which part? Because it hurts differently in different areas. Where the mass has spread to my liver, it's pushing against my diaphragm," Fockler said. "So taking a deep breath is like being punched in the ribs, all day every day."

Fockler was scheduled for surgery on April 7. Surgeons planned to perform a full hysterectomy, as well as possibly remove her spleen and appendix.

"I was hopeful. It's terrifying honestly," she said. "I don't want it, but I need it. Nobody ever wants to get cut open, but it's necessary. When my children were born, I promised them everything. I promised them my whole world and so, the first part of that is making sure that I am here to keep it. So I was hopeful because it's a chance to overcome."

But a few days ago, she received a call from the doctor who would have performed the surgery at the University of Michigan. He told her they couldn't move forward because they didn't have enough ventilators. With the five hour procedure, one would be necessary for the surgery.

"My whole life depends on a few hours on a ventilator," said Fockler. She added that her doctors did everything they could to try and secure one.

At this time, Fockler doesn't have a new date set in place for a surgery or a timeline of when that may be possible.

"I would love to get it done as quickly as possible if I could, tomorrow. To me, it means life. It means more time with my children," she said. "I don't think anybody is ever really ready to go, but I know I have a lot of life left in me. It's just insane to think that a machine will make a huge difference on whether I will get that chance or not."

The University of Michigan did not immediately respond to a request for comment about how they are distributing ventilators and who is receiving them.

There has been a GoFundMe set up to help Fockler and her family. You can find the link here.

This story was originally published by Angeline McCall on WXMI in Grand Rapids, Michigan.