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Lackawanna man can't see his dying father in Canada

Brett Cawthorn saw his father, Douglas Cawthorn, for what might be the last time Wednesday.

Douglas, 59, a dual U.S.-Canadian citizen, has had Stage 4 brain cancer since 2017 and is dying in a palliative care unit in St. Catharines, Ont.

His son, who is 25 and lives in Lackawanna, is an American citizen who drives to see his father once or twice a week.

"He's probably going to pass away in the next week or two, which is tough," Brett Cawthorn said. "I went there Wednesday because I heard the border might be closing."

A nurse let him in for 15 minutes Wednesday, although he had to wear a mask, gloves and gown because of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Since July, Douglas Cawthorn has been a patient in Hotel Dieu Shaver, a rehabilitation facility that also has four palliative care beds.

After Wednesday's visit, his son and ex-wife, Elizabeth McMahon, Brett's mother, were told they were barred from visiting again because they live in the United States. The Ontario government had prohibited visits to its health care facilities by non-Canadians.

"I said, 'He's in the end stages of his life,' and they said, 'We're sorry; we're not letting anybody from the U.S. in,' " McMahon said.

"I acted like it would the last time I'd see him, which was brutal to say the least," Brett said. "I kind of had a moment with him. It was tough."

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Friday, the visitation ban was strengthened to prevent visits by anyone, including Canadians, except in "extraordinary circumstances," said Jennifer Hansen, director of nursing for Hotel Dieu Shaver.

"Anyone who has traveled outside of Canada fails the screening criteria for visitation. We're protecting all the patients of Ontario," Hansen said.

Living in the United States is considered international travel as far as Ontario authorities are concerned, Hansen said.

Hansen said if Douglas Cawthorn is "imminently dying," his relatives will be called.

"They will be allowed to visit at that time only," Hansen said.

In the meantime, Hansen said, the facility would set up a chance for Douglas Cawthorn to see his American relatives via FaceTime.

"He doesn't really understand things well, so it's hard doing it through FaceTime," Brett said.

"Really, he doesn't understand most of the time what you're saying. He whispers everything," McMahon said. "They won't put in a feeding tube because it would prolong his agony. We're divorced and I wouldn't wish this on my worst, worst, worst enemy. It's awful."

Douglas' mother, Ann Cawthorn, is in an assisted living facility in Welland, Ont., which is now under mandatory lockdown because of the Covid-19 virus.

"His mom can't visit him, his son can't visit him, and his sister (Andrea Spooner) can't visit him, because she lives in Tonawanda," McMahon said.

Douglas Cawthorn's girlfriend, Carrie Farr, a Canadian, was visiting him every day until the lockdown, McMahon said.

McMahon said she met Douglas Cawthorn in 1992 when both were working at the Alberta Drive Wegmans store. He worked in the produce department and she was the market cafe manager.

McMahon, who divorced Douglas Cawthorn in 2010, said she spent time on the phone last week with border officials for both the United States and Canada.

Both sides told her as long as she and Brett had a note from Douglas' doctor or the facility, a visit to a dying man would be considered essential cross-border travel under terms of the current border regulations, put into effect Friday.

So would attending his funeral, McMahon said.

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