Long-term Patient from Canada Surviving and Inspiring Her Lowcountry Peers

 George Roberts, President of East Cooper Meals on Wheels, will never forget Kathy Madden.  He became aware of her inspirational story when she became a meal recipient last July.  “The staff and many volunteers have gotten to know Kathy,” says Roberts, “and we are all simply amazed that, with all she has been through, she continues to have the most pleasant disposition and maintains a very strong faith.  Her story is truly a blessing to many.”

 Kathy 2015
Imagine being in your early fifties, reflecting over the glory days of your adult life.  Then consider what it would be like to have those active years cut drastically short by an unexpected course of events.  When you should have been enjoying life in your prime, perhaps starting a family — instead you had to juggle a multitude of things beyond your control. Something as simple as solid food, for example, was something you had not been able to have in twenty years. Things that made day-to-day life painful, confusing, frustrating and – at times – almost hopeless.  That is how life took a turn for Kathy Madden.


 In 2010, Dr. James Yanney, a surgeon at Charleston Oral and Facial Surgery, received a call from a Kathy Madden early photoCanadian physician with a very sad story.  As the physician explained, a lovely resident of Toronto named Kathy Madden had come into a horrible situation that started in 1997, when she was 35 years old.  This young lady had undergone fifteen surgeries in her home country and, although she needed further attention, the potential hospitals didn’t currently have space to accommodate her for further treatment.  Kathy had initially sought medical help in 1997 for a temporomandibular (TMJ) disorder, a fairly common condition that can cause pain in the jaw joint and surrounding muscles that control jaw movement.  Unfortunately, the procedure to treat her TMJ went awry, and Kathy contracted osteomyelitis (bone infection) in her jaw.  As a result, Kathy underwent another lengthy surgical procedure which was followed up with days of IV treatment and a strict six-week regimen of antibiotics.  While the Canadian (government-provided) healthcare coverage would not cover the antibiotics, it would cover Kathy’s travel to Charleston to receive the antibiotics here.  So, Kathy flew to the Lowcountry, where she lived in an extended-stay hotel for six weeks while receiving the antibiotics to help with her recovery.  Kathy then returned to Canada and went about her life.

 Thirteen years after her original surgery, Kathy frantically called Dr. Yanney in 2010; she had accidentally been hit in the face and was afraid the impact may have fractured her jaw socket.  She was especially anxious because her Canadian doctor told her that she must undergo a 15-hour procedure that would include operating on both sides of her face.  Kathy was confused and upset, as her problems had always been on only one side, not both.  She voiced her concerns and disagreement with the doctor, but he would not hear of it.  Kathy then decided to call Dr. Yanney in search of assistance and hope.  Dr. Yanney was convinced that all Kathy needed was a much simpler procedure that could be successfully accomplished in 90 minutes.  He repeatedly contacted the Canadian government health care leaders about the simpler procedure and the unfair limitation of options offered to Kathy, but to no avail.  Under Canadian healthcare regulations, Kathy was not permitted to leave the country for alternative care.

 The surgery was performed in Canada on both sides of Kathy’s face (without her consent) and it did not go smoothly.  Through the procedure, Kathy’s facial nerves were severed, putting her at risk of permanent injury to both her facial muscles and vision. She had to administer eye drops every hour on the hour, twenty-four hours a day – for two years – and that was only one example of consequences that Kathy had to endure.

 The handling of Kathy’s case was considered to be scandalous malpractice and certainly far from legal in the United States.  In the meantime, Kathy’s life sadly continued down a path of suffering and uncertainty.  During what should have been the best years of her adult life, Kathy’s time was consumed by traveling to doctor visits, stressful medical treatment, and unexpected expenses.  The only thing that kept Kathy hanging on was her faith in God.

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 In 2012, an advocate helped bring Kathy’s case to the Canadian courts.  Dr. Yanney participated in the hearing via conference call and, although such decisions often take weeks in the Canadian courts, this panel of judges made an atypically quick decision: the medical professionals involved in Kathy’s treatment lost their medical license.  Furthermore, Kathy would be permitted to return to the United States for surgery to reverse damage done in the earlier procedures and then receive therapy to treat the muscle and nerve damage in her face.  While the Canadian courts agreed to send Kathy back to the United States for treatment, there appeared to be no further legal assistance possible for her in Canada.  When Dr. Yanney consulted with seven reputable and qualified attorneys in Canada, he found that each provided the same response:  a person could not prevail with litigation against the Canadian Ministry of Health.

 Through the care providers and extended community, who had gotten to know Kathy from her earlier visits to the Lowcountry, there were people praying and hosting prayer vigils for her.  Kathy arrived back to Charleston in 2013, and her supporters were all praying for a miracle.  For most patients undergoing such repair surgery, the process of nerve recovery takes months and sometimes doesn’t happen at all.  In fact, if she were lucky enough to have the function return, the normal expected return rate is 1 millimeter per day (i.e. 2-3 months, at least).  Given the severity of Kathy’s case, it truly seemed that only a miracle could ever bring back the nerve function she had lost.

 The 15-hour repair surgery, led by Dr. Yanney, involved taking bone from Kathy’s ribs to use in the reconstruction of her jaw sockets and joints. When Dr. Yanney went to check on Kathy post-surgery, he found all of her treating nurses in the hallway crying.  The surgery had worked…and so did her nerves.  After two years of nerve function loss, Kathy’s nerves had started working again, immediately!  With no viable medical science explanation for the immediate return of her nerve function, the only possible explanation was that her healing was a miracle of God.

 Kathy has remained in Mount Pleasant, undergoing physical therapy, taking prescription medicine, and doing all she can to help her body recover. Simple luxuries that most of us take for granted are some that Kathy has long gone without. One example: solid food; Kathy has not been able to eat solid food for twenty years. In August 2014, Kathy started receiving meals from East Cooper Meals on Wheels, which she then puts into a food processor so it is consumable. Her doctors say Kathy’s joints seem stable, and they will do trigger point injections this month as part of her continued treatment.  Reflecting on all that Kathy has endured, Dr. Yanney commented, “In a civilized country, no one should have to go through what she has been through.”

 Although no practitioner capable of treating Kathy has been identified in Canada, she must return in early July in order to keep her healthcare benefits.  She also worries about her father who is there.  He has supported her, both with love and financially, throughout this awful nightmare, and that has taken a toll.  One can only imagine what it must be like to watch your daughter go through such an unexpected and unfair ordeal.  They paid cash when it was cheaper than going through insurance, but that kind of financing runs short quickly.  Kathy’s father recently sold the family home and moved into an apartment in order to pay for her last surgery.  Kathy will be returning to Canada in compliance with the government’s residency requirements.  Undoubtedly, she will enjoy reuniting with her father.

 Those who know of Kathy’s struggles hope that she and her father can recover from this financial burden and somehow eradicate the debt that has accrued through this horrid ordeal.  Plus, money aside, returning to a homeland where she underwent 16 unsuccessful surgeries can’t be easy – emotionally or psychologically.

K at Breach Inlet

 It is hoped that Kathy will be able to return to Charleston in four to six months to continue the therapies that have been working well for her here.  Only recently did Kathy get to see the Atlantic Ocean for the first time, as well as some of Charleston’s historic downtown sites.  A fanatic of history and churches, Kathy hopes to return to Charleston to see and experience more, and maybe even get her father to join her.

 Although we cannot know what will happen, we do know that Kathy’s faith is strong, and – yes – miracles do happen.  Friends of Kathy Madden have started a matching fund campaign to help lessen the financial burden on her family.  To donate please click here Donate Please


If you would prefer to donate by check – please mail checks to:
2005 Three Gates Rd
Mt. Pleasant SC 29464
Please write “Help for Kathy” in the For area of the check.