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What a difference a day can give

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Hospitals touch lives in ways no other institutions do.

Our hospitals are witness to scenes of joy and tragedy, of relief and heartbreak. And during a pandemic, the connection between our health care service and the community has never been greater. Our health teams have protected, comforted and cared for us as true heroes would.

I have been honoured to be Chair of the Board for Canberra Hospital Foundation since July 2012. In those years, the Foundation has worked tirelessly to contribute to the well-being of patients, their families and carers. Our health teams can provide the best care possible by guiding community generosity to fund initiatives, equipment, and services through the Foundation.

This Friday 29 October, you can thank Canberra’s healthcare heroes by supporting CAN GIVE DAY. CAN GIVE DAY is an annual ‘Festival of Giving’ supporting the Foundation.

It is a day to celebrate our healthcare heroes and raise donations to aid the exceptional care created every day for patients.

I would like to share a story. A young Canberra man travelled to St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney for major heart surgery many years ago.

It was unable to be performed here in Canberra at the time. He had a history of heart issues and was given his Last Rites as an infant before recovering and then had open-heart surgery when he was five.

Despite these early health complications, his life was not very different to those of his peers. He attended school, played sport, went to university, married his soul mate, and they looked forward to a long and happy life together.

One day in their first year of marriage, a routine cardiology appointment diagnosed an issue that, if left untreated, was fatal. The newlywed husband was immediately booked for surgery in Sydney. And the wife booked into Palm Court Motel at the start of Parramatta Road, now known as the Swiss Garden Lodge.

This surgery was due to take about 90 minutes. Four hours after the surgery commenced, a surgeon approached the young wife to say that there had been a problem. The balloon had burst in her husband’s heart. He was recovering, but they needed to operate again soon, and this would be much more invasive surgery. That night he would recover from the trauma and then prepare for open-heart surgery in the morning. Life expectancy had now dropped to weeks without urgent surgery.

The following day, another young man in that ward had a similar procedure but, sadly, did not survive the operation.

So here is a relatively new bride, away from home in Sydney, knowing that this subsequent surgery needs to be performed urgently. She knew the previous surgery was a failure, and the only other young patient on the ward just died. She was staying at a hotel and driving backwards and forwards to the hospital when all she wanted to do, was stay close to her very ill husband.

Surgery was booked for Sunday at noon. He would be the second operation that day. It was the day of the City to Surf, so there were road closures, parking was worse than usual, and emotions were high.

Unfortunately, schedules change at hospitals, and his surgery was moved up to be the first operation. When told that he would be operated on early, he phoned the hotel to speak to his wife. But she wasn’t in her room, so he asked the receptionist to pass on a message.

“Please tell my wife that I am going into surgery early and that I love her.”

I’ll finish this story in just a moment.

Your support for the Canberra Hospital Foundation and CAN GIVE DAY won’t necessarily save lives. But it will change lives.

Almost every person, at some point in their life, needs public health care. Canberra Hospital Foundation supports the more than 500,000 people who are hospitalised or receive treatment in Canberra each year; patients of all ages, all illnesses, each area of care they need. With your support, Canberra Hospital Foundation can help every patient in some way.

And as for the young patient in the story – the receptionist raced through the hotel, found the wife, passed on the message. The wife made it to the hospital just in time to see her husband as he was being wheeled to the operating theatre.

Victor Chang performed the successful operation, and 34 years later, they remain happily married and have three wonderful sons.

Now that surgery can be performed here in Canberra. Over the years, the Foundation has raised funds to support cardiology diagnosis and treatment in Canberra, so fewer patients need to travel to Sydney for care. And thanks to CAN GIVE DAY, donations from 2020 funded a Portable Cardiac Ultrasound Machine for patients in regional areas to see a specialist in their home community.

I know how beneficial it would have been for the husband to have the surgery and recovery in Canberra. Because I am his wife, and we are still soul mates.

CAN GIVE DAY is Friday 29 October

You can support exceptional patient care and thank Canberra’s Healthcare Heroes, visit cangiveday.org.au to find out how

Feature image: Ben Calvert

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