A charitable MQ Health program is working behind the scenes to help provide support for patients to receive treatments they couldn’t otherwise afford.
The Grateful Patient Program was created in 2019 to give patients and their families a way to say thank you for the care they have received at Macquarie University Hospital or MQ Health Clinics.
MQ Health Chief Operating Officer Dr Welly Firmanto says that the assistance provided by the program ranged from tests not covered by a patient’s health fund to entire operations.
“Clinicians identify and recommend that patients request funding from the program when costs are a challenge, and we are usually able to help about three to four patients every year, using donations from former patients,” he said.
“All MQ Health clinicians and staff can have a role in helping to promote the program by letting patients know of its existence. MQ Health sits in a unique position in the Australian healthcare landscape. As a not-for-profit, academically-driven healthcare organisation, charity is very much part of our mission. But without the generosity of our donors, the Grateful Patient Program would not be able to exist.”
Britt was the first patient to benefit from a Grateful Patient grant. She had spent two years trying to get to the bottom of why her left leg had become swollen after an overseas flight. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and a tumour had been ruled out early on, but her entire leg remained swollen, and it was growing progressively worse.
“My GP had vaguely mentioned it might be lymphoedema,” Britt said. “My leg was still swollen, but no-one found anything; everyone stopped looking and no-one guided me. A year later, I developed cellulitis, which can be fatal.”
After hearing about MQ Health’s specialist Lymphoedema Clinic and reading about other patients’ experiences on a Facebook support group, Britt began to wonder if she had May-Thurner syndrome, a rare problem that is often triggered by flying and can increase the risk of DVT in the left leg.
Macquarie vascular surgeon Dr Daniel Nguyen ordered an MRI, then an intravenous ultrasound – a costly test that she would have struggled to afford without a grant from the Grateful Patient Program.
“Dr Nguyen found I had May-Thurner syndrome, but all the other tests had missed it,” she said. “If it’s not treated, it gets worse.
“I’d been a walking timebomb for the past two and a half years – I could have dropped dead just getting on a plane. I wasn’t aware these grants were available, but Dr Nguyen applied on my behalf, and I’m very grateful that this option was there. I’d already spent close to $20,000 on surgery, pumps, specialists’ appointments, tests and special stockings. Having gone through two years of haemorrhaging money, the grant alleviated that pressure toward the end of last year and allowed me to put the money I’d saved towards inserting a stent to help treat the problem.”
Coffs Harbour resident Alison recently made a donation of $5,000 to the program following surgery to remove a cyst from her lower back.
“I’ve always led a healthy, active life, but I was at the stage where I needed a walking frame and could barely make it down the hall,” she said. “I couldn’t even lie down without pain. We live in Coffs Harbour, and because of COVID-19, I had to have a teleconference with the specialist, Dr Shinuo Liu. I had my doubts about telehealth, because I wouldn’t be seeing him in person, but he had really done his research. He knew so much about me!
“I was very impressed with the hospital and the staff when I had my surgery. Everything was arranged when I got there, and the staff were so welcoming. Every nurse who came to my room introduced herself to me and told me what she’d be doing. I saw Dr Liu every single day I was there, and his assistant sometimes twice a day. I’ve never in my life seen that in a hospital, and I worked as a nurses’ aide for seven years.
“It was a long, complicated operation, but the change was like someone switching the light on. The next day, I could already walk down the hall and I felt I was one of the very, very lucky people in the world. We’re not super wealthy, but when I saw you could donate money to the hospital, I thought that’s what I’d do, so I donated $5,000.”
The Grateful Patient Program welcomes donations not just from patients: everyone can contribute.