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Canadian man diagnosed with brain tumour in Thailand begins long journey home
TORONTO -- A Canadian man diagnosed with a brain tumour in Thailand has begun the long and difficult journey back home so he can undergo surgery and further treatment for cancer.
Kitchener, Ont. resident Alex Witmer and his wife Jennifer Witmer, who had been living in New Brunswick, quit their jobs earlier this year and went on a six-week trip to Thailand before planning to relocate to Toronto.
The couple was about a month into their trip when the 30-year-old began suffering from a severe migraine. They went to the hospital in Koh Samui and after doctors completed scans they were given the devastating news that he had a tumour deep inside his brain that was cancerous.
Their insurance company, Allianz Global Assistance, initially rejected the $265,000 air ambulance flight home because Alex reported a headache during an emergency room visit in Moncton a month before their trip. On Tuesday, the insurance company reversed the decision.
While the couple waited in Thailand on answers from the insurance company, they said Alex's condition deteriorated rapidly. Doctors were forced to insert a drain in his head in order to relieve enough pressure for Alex to fly home.
The couple left Koh Samui around 9 p.m. on Friday. They are scheduled to land in Ottawa on Saturday evening and be taken to a hospital, where a doctor has agreed to do the surgery. Jennifer said they are required to make at least three stops along the way for fuel and crew changes.
"Alex is feeling much more himself now that he’s adjusting to the decreased pressure," Jennifer told CTV News Toronto from the hospital on Friday. "All he wants right now is to be home and see his family."
"I met the medics from the air ambulance crew and feel like we’re in really good hands, but of course I’m nervous. However, I know they would not fly him if it wasn't safe."
"Once we arrive, he will have more tests done immediately to prepare him for surgery as soon as possible, sometime this week, but further tests results might change that."
Meanwhile, Jennifer said she has been sleeping on a bench in the hospital since Alex’s diagnosis. She said she's grateful for the support she has been receiving from around the world.
"I've received hundreds of messages from people I don’t know. It's honestly getting me through. During the day everyone I know is asleep, including Alex, so I spend my time reading those messages."
Jennifer said it will be a big relief to arrive in Canada and be supported again by family.
"I know we have support from so many people, but we could both use a hug when we get home. But it will be just as much of a relief for family to see him too."
A GoFundMe page has been organized to help raise funds for Alex's care when he returns home and has received nearly $77,000 in four days.
"We're overwhelmed and emotional," Jennifer said earlier this week. "How do you put this into words to see so many strangers giving up so much to save his life is the most amazing thing ever."