Hamilton mom describes ‘gut-wrenching’ feeling of opening last can of baby formula amid Canadian shortage | CBC News

Alissa Korytko says she is constantly worrying about how she will feed her eight-month-old daughter Rylee.

“I’ve been like a wreck … When we opened up the last can of formula, I couldn’t even describe that gut-wrenching feeling,” the Hamilton mother said. “I don’t know what I’m going to be able to do to help her.”

Rylee is allergic to milk, an allergy Korytko also had as an infant. The first few weeks of her life, her daughter frequently had rashes and diarrhea.

“She wasn’t gaining any weight because her body wasn’t taking in any of the nutrients and the water, so that she was just dehydrated,” Korytko told CBC Hamilton.

Even before Rylee was diagnosed, she was formula fed. Korytko was unable to breastfeed because of the physical toll of giving birth in October. 

Rylee had to be kept in the neonatal intensive-care unit (NICU) for three days after her birth, while Korytko was also in intensive care. (Submitted by Alissa Korytko)

“I hemorrhaged, lost a lot of blood. They didn’t think I was going to make it,” she said. “I tried pumping [breast milk] and it didn’t work.”

Doctors suggested Korytko switch from regular formula to a hypoallergenic formula after the baby’s initial reaction. Rylee’s symptoms cleared up and she began to put on weight.

Then, in February, the formula shortage began.

Local pharmacies began running out in April

The type of formula Rylee needs is hydrolyzed hypoallergenic baby formula. It’s used for babies with milk allergies, as well as babies with sensitive stomachs and conditions like colic.

There used to be two brands that sold this kind of formula in Canada, Korytko said — Abbott and Enfamil. 

In February, massive recalls began for Abbott’s Similac Alimentum hypoallergenic infant formula. It left families with only one option to feed their children.

Korytko had to throw out 12 cans of contaminated formula when the recall was announced. She was able to get a prescription for the second option, Nutramigen hypoallergenic baby formula, because of Rylee’s milk allergy. The Korytko family didn’t feel the pressure of the shortage until pharmacies began running out in April.

Enfamil’s Nutramigen hypoallergenic hydrolyzed formula is the only formula sold in Canada that Rylee can use, and stores have begun discontinuing its sale. (Cara Nickerson/CBC)

Dr. Elyanne Ratcliffe is an associate professor of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition with McMaster University and works with patients at McMaster’s Children’s Hospital.

Ratcliffe said that for now, health professionals are working with Health Canada to distribute formula to the patients who need it most.

“There’s a decision tree that’s been circulated for health-care professionals, for us to know how to prioritize which babies really need the more medicalized formulas,” Dr. Ratcliffe said.

McMaster Children’s Hospital released an information table on its website that offers generic alternatives to the Enfamil and Abbott formulas, but Korytko said there are no hydrolyzed hypoallergenic options. 

Health Canada released a table showing the different brands Canada is importing from other countries to make up for the shortage, but Korytko said the lists aren’t helpful for parents.

“The government is saying that they brought in these… different brands to try and I guess counteract the shortage here, but there’s no access to them.”

In an email to CBC Hamilton, Health Canada said they cannot disclose how the imported formula is being distributed, but confirmed all imported formula is being sent to pharmacies across the country.

Health Canada’s website says the Abbott formula factory reopened on June 4, but damage from a massive storm caused the plant to close down again on June 15.

Pharmacies across Hamilton are on backorder for the formula, and finding enough to get through the week has become Korytko’s main occupation.

The hunt for formula

When the pharmacy began to experience a shortage of prescription formula in April, Korytko and her husband were forced to drive around, as far as Dunnville, Haldimand County, nearly 60 kilometres south, searching drug stores for enough formula to feed their daughter.

“Every week we call all the Shoppers [Drug Marts] in the area,” Korytko said.

Korytko’s weekly call rounds have uncovered that Shoppers Drug Marts around the city are beginning to discontinue carrying hydrolyzed hypoallergenic baby formula because it has been out of stock for so long.

There’s been a hypoallergenic baby formula shortage since February and it has left shelves across Canada empty. It has been out of stock for so long that Korytko says some pharmacies have decided to stop carrying it. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Korytko called Enfami’sl head office on June 28 as a last resort, after another mom told her she had been able to secure a few cans of formula that way. Korytko said a representative from Enfamil told Korytko she would be able to pick up formula from a pharmacy soon, but could not guarantee a date or give her a location.

Last week, Korytko’s mother-in-law, Tracy Assoun, posted about Korytko’s struggle to feed Rylee on Twitter in hopes someone would be able to get her formula.

Korytko said she was touched by the support from people who read the post, but it offered no real solution.

“I’ve had a couple moms reach out to her from the [United] states, like, offering to send me formula,” she said. “That would really be hard, especially with the cost of shipping, but it’s been super generous.”

Temporary solutions

Every time Korytko feeds Rylee, she calculates how much formula she has left and how long it will last.

“I want to make sure that she’s drinking, but if she’s not… can [I] find a way to try and preserve it? But I know that I can’t, because once you heat it up, you can only heat it up that one time.”

Korytko currently has enough hypoallergenic formula to feed her daughter for the next three or four days. The search for more formula is constant for her. (Cara Nickerson/CBC)

At eight months old, Rylee is beginning to eat solid foods, but it’s difficult for a baby her age to get all the nutrients they need from solids.

Ratcliffe said while some infants can eat solid foods as early as six months, it is difficult to meet their nutritional needs with that alone.

“For most babies, when they first start taking solids, it’s really for practice. It’s more for skill development,” the doctor said.

If Korytko can’t get formula for Rylee, her only option is to take her to the hospital for an emergency feeding. Korytko said the thought of having to go to a hospital gives her goosebumps. 

“Bringing her to the hospital to be fed is one thing, but then having to worry about all the sick kids that are already there and possibly contracting something else with her already low immune system, is terrifying.”

For now, Korytko has five cans of formula concentrate and a quarter can of powdered formula right now. She said she will be able to feed her daughter for the next three or four days, then the hunt for formula will begin again. 

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