Quebec man stuck with cancer in Mexico after family say back pain discharged at Canadian hospital

The family of a Quebec man stuck in Mexico are looking for answers after they say he received medical travel clearance and then found his cancer returned while on vacation.

Laurent Bigras and Antonieta Chavez were heading to Cancun with their two children in early March when things quickly took an unexpected and expensive turn.

“Our lives changed from one day to the next,” Chavez said.

Prior to her trip, Chavez says her husband recently started getting back pain.

Bigras was diagnosed with lymphoma in October 2020 and underwent chemotherapy at Montreal’s Sacré-Cœur Hospital until February 2021 – he was in remission.

Bigras had gradually started working again in January 2022 and the back pain started in winter. According to his wife, he visited the emergency room at the same hospital more than once and scheduled follow-up appointments.

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Chavez says her husband’s blood tests and other tests did not raise any red flags at the time. He also had no other symptoms like the weight loss and sweating that he had when he was first diagnosed with cancer.

Bigras was given anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve the pain. Chavez said the medical team suspected muscle pain at the time — even when he returned to the emergency room in pain.

“He took appointments with physical therapists, even a massage therapist, to get better,” Chavez said.

In fact, Chavez says her husband visited his GP and discussed their upcoming trip. Bigras was told the holiday would do him good, she said.

“He was in pain, but it was up and down,” Chavez said.

Laurent Bigras and his wife Antonieta Chavez on vacation with their two children.

Submitted by Antonieta Chavez

She said the family of four went to Cancun for a week’s vacation in March and the back pain was manageable until the last day. On the way back to Montreal, Chavez said the pain became so severe on their first flight that Bigras could neither walk nor eat.

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“Even the kids were like, ‘Oh mom, he’s really in pain,'” Chavez said.

The family had to take Bigras to the emergency room during their transfer in Mexico City, where he stayed over the weekend requiring treatment with morphine. They were given medication to control the pain and he was discharged Sunday hoping to go home.

The next day, says Chavez, her husband had to go back to the emergency room at Hospital Español. His pain did not improve, even with high doses of medication.

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The children stayed with Chavez’s father, who lives in Mexico, while Bigras was reinstated and doctors decided they needed to know what was causing the pain.

After an X-ray, the Hospital Español medical team proceeded with an MRI. The doctor showed Chavez a photo of a massive tumor in her husband’s back.

“He (the doctor) said, ‘I don’t even know how he can stand,'” Chavez said. “This is a tumor of almost 40 centimeters. That is why the pain is so strong.”

After that, a biopsy of the tumor confirmed that the lymphoma was back. Due to his poor health, Bigras was unable to leave the hospital.

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As the hospital stay lengthened, Chavez had to make the difficult decision to stay with her husband and send their children home to attend school. They currently live in Laval with their sister.

Silvia Haidee, Chavez’s sister, said it was a “rough time” for the whole family – especially the children.

“You know he’s sick,” she said. “But it sure is confusing to her why her father is in Mexico instead of here.”

Meanwhile, Chavez expects her husband to stay in the hospital for at least another week if all goes well.

What the family is now looking for is why Bigras’ cancer was reportedly not detected by doctors at Montreal’s Sacré-Cœur hospital after he repeatedly complained of being unwell.

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“They found out what happened to him during a test in Mexico,” Haidee said.

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The CIUSSS du Nord-de-l’île-de-Montréal, the health authority overseeing the hospital, said in a statement that it could not comment on the patient’s file, citing confidentiality.

However, the health authority has “strongly recommended” Bigras to contact their complaints officer.

At the same time, the financial costs for the family are increasing. Her insurance was able to cover a large chunk of the medical expenses — about $40,000. They have started a fundraiser to help as they now owe $12,000 out of their own pocket and that amount is growing.

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