Austism treatment attracts family
Published Sunday, July 27, 2008 5:23PM CST
A Winnipeg autism treatment program is garnering national attention in the medical community. So much so, that a prominent Nova Scotia medical family is making the 4000 km move to our city.
Dr. Leif Sigurdson is a reconstructive surgeon and his wife Dr. Leanne van Amstel is a radiologist. They're moving to Winnipeg to enroll their three-year-old son Eric in St. Amant's Applied Behavioral Analysis program.
It is considered one of the most innovative programs in the country, providing children as young as two, with 35 hours of therapy a week.
Van Amstel says she and her husband struggled with the decision to leave their long-time home; but the treatment she believes her son needs isn't available in Halifax.
"With autism you need to intervene intensively and early to get the best results," she told CTV News. "There is a funded program in Nova Scotia, but it is based on a lottery system and only a fraction of the people who need the services can get it.
"Unfortunately our son wasn't one of them."
Program the result of local families
Van Amstel has already enrolled Eric in St. Amant's program, which is provincially funded and provides three year's of treatment for pre-school children and three more years once they're in school.
The program is funded by three different government departments and works in coordination with both St. Amant and the University of Manitoba.
According to St. Amant's CEO, Dr. Carl Stephens, the program was the vision of local families of children with autism.
"They essentially lobbied government and said research shows that this is the best approach for helping kids and we want this approach in Manitoba," he told CTV News.
"We're very pleased that a family would have heard something so positive about the programs in Manitoba that they would make that decision to move here to access those programs. But on the other hand we would really hope this kind
of a service, and program would exist universally."
Halifax feeling the loss
Manitoba's gain is proving to be a big loss for Halifax.
Dr. Leif Sigurdson is one of the few reconstructive surgeons in the Maritimes. But he says after his son lost the autism treatment lottery, he had no choice but to leave the east coast.
"I was really put in a position where I just couldn't stay with a good conscience," he said. "Especially when there's access to much better treatment service for my son [in Winnipeg]."
Sigurdson has more than 1100 patients on his waiting list at the Health Sciences Centre in Halifax.
He says he gave notice to close his practice about a year ago, but so far the position hasn't been filled.