The HSE has refused to comment on why a heart and double lung transplant patient had to rely on a stranger’s offer of the use of a private aircraft to attend a vital medical assessment in the UK, writes Eoin English
Isabel Terry, 41, from Cork, who has been on a transplant list for 14 years, last night flew from Cork Airport with her partner, Philip, on the private aircraft bound for Newcastle after the HSE failed to arrange air ambulance transport.
The HSE declined to answer questions about its role in Ms Terry’s transport, stating that it is policy not to comment on individual cases.
Ms Terry, who is under the care of a medical team at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital, will spend the next two days undergoing tests to determine whether she is well enough to stay on the transplant list. She said she was grateful to the person who arranged the jet — they wish to remain anonymous — and for the generosity of countless others who offered help.
“Obviously I’m worried about the next few days,” she said. “But in my mind I’m ready for this battle. I hope this feeling and energy comes across when I meet the transplant team. It is just as important to show the team that I am ready to deal with all of the complexities of a transplant.”
Ms Terry, from Bishopstown, suffers from pulmonary atresia, a birth defect of the pulmonary valve in the heart, and has to use bottled oxygen 24 hours a day.
She was called to Newcastle for assessment but could not arrange travel in time on a commercial flight due to the red tape associated with her oxygen bottles, and the risk of infection, so she faced an arduous trip by car and ferry. The HSE offered to cover the cost of the journeys under the Treatment Abroad Scheme, but said it would cover no other expenses.
David Hall, who runs Lifeline Ambulance and who organises organ transplant logistics between Ireland the UK, stepped in to arrange an ambulance, ferry transfer, and accommodation. It emerged yesterday she had been offered a private jet transfer.
Mr Hall, who encouraged Ms Terry to avail of the offer, accused the HSE of treating her “despicably”.
“If you can’t provide services for patients in this country, it is not unreasonable for those patients to expect you to cover the cost of availing of those services in another country,” he said.
“This is the only health service in the world where we have to fight for patients like this, and where people like me, and the individual who offered the use of the jet, have to circumvent the system to help her attend a potentially life-changing appointment,” he said.
Ms Terry was first assessed as needing a heart transplant in 2003 while in the care of the Mater in Dublin. She suffered the heartbreak of five unsuccessful transplant calls between 2003 and 2009.
By 2009, her condition worsened to the point where she required a heart and double lung transplant. Her care was transferred to the Freeman Hospital and she has had one unsuccessful transplant call in that time.
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.