Kai caught in red tape -- Bub must travel to Sydney for implants

By SAMANTHA HEALY

HOW could anyone deny this sweet little face? If you thought no-one could, you would be wrong.

In fact, cross-border bureaucracy has done just that.

This is the face of little Kai Barwick-Angel of Tweed Heads who, despite being just one month old, faces months of doctors visits, an operation and years of specialist therapy.

Kai, who was born at the Murwillumbah District Hospital on September 23, is profoundly deaf.

Since Kai was diagnosed, his parents, Samantha Barwick and Thomas Angel, both 19, have visited Tweed Hospital for tests and were eventually referred to the Mater Children's Hospital in Brisbane.

There, doctors informed the young family that Kai was a good candidate for a cochlear implant, an implant that his father Thomas also has.

But during their last visit to see the hospital's specialists, the family was informed that despite living just five minutes south of the Queensland/NSW border, Kai would have to travel to Sydney for the operation.

"We are facing regular 12-hour trips to Sydney if they don't allow him to get the operation done in Brisbane," Ms Barwick said.

"There is a hospital just an hour and a half away that could do it."

But that is not the only concern for Kai's parents, who must also try and come up with $50,000 to pay for the second implant.

Kai has to have a bilateral operation, where an implant is placed in both ears.

But Kai has some allies in some pretty high places, with the little boy even the subject of a passionate plea by Tweed MP Geoff Provest in state parliament on October 17.

Mr Provest told parliament that Kai's operation could lead to him living a 'near-normal life' but that it had to be done soon in order to maximise his chances of success.

"The family has also been told that the government may fund only one of the implants. The implants cost $50,000 each so the family will be expected to come up with the remaining $50,000," Mr Provest said.

"This family cannot even afford travel and accommodation expenses associated with receiving treatment in Sydney, let alone pay $50,000 for half the required treatment."

Mr Provest implored NSW Health Minister Reba Meagher to allow the operation to proceed in Brisbane, at no expense to the family.

"The bureaucracy is making this so much harder for the kids," Samantha's father Paul Barwick said.

"It just doesn't make any sense. We are all Australians. Why should they have to go to Sydney when there is a perfectly good hospital just over one hour away that can do the operation."

Yesterday, a spokeswoman for health minister Reba Meagher said that the North Coast Area Health Service had been working with Kai's family since his hearing impairment was first detected as part of the Statewide Infant Screening for Hearing (SWISH) program.

"NSW Health is looking into the specifics of this case," the spokeswoman said.

"However, travel assistance is provided under the SWISH Travel program, part of the NSW Government's Transport for Health program, to support families who are required to travel for specialist audiologist assessment and treatment."

But Kai's grandfather Paul Barwick intends to continue pleading with the health minister to "see sense and allow the operation to go ahead closer to home".

"The longer this goes on the more likely Kai's development will be hindered," Mr Barwick said.

On October 9, Mr Barwick sent a letter to the NSW Health Minister Reba Meagher but as of yesterday had received no correspondence from the minister.

In the letter, Mr Barwick said "it seems ridiculous that in this day and age where we are considered to be one country that a family may have to drive almost 12 hours each trip to Sydney in order to receive treatment for a severe condition that could be administered at a facility approximately one hour from where they live". "We who live on the verge of both states are always affected by cross-border issues," Mr Barwick wrote.

"Why are we discriminated against because of where we live?"



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