A critically ill Melbourne mother and her family are making a desperate plea to help them raise funds to cover her medical bills and the cost of flying her back to Australia for emergency surgery.
Gina Wherrett, 62, was diagnosed with motor neuron disease (MND) in September 2022.
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MND has a life expectancy of about two to three years after diagnosis because the disease damages nerves that send signals to the brain, meaning the sufferer gradually loses their ability to do things like hold objects or swallow.
“When she was diagnosed, we came home and we cried, we cuddled and I said to her, ‘we are now joined at the hip’,” her husband Matt said.
“And I said ‘honey, whatever it takes, whatever I can do, I am totally committed to you forever’.”
Matt Wherrett said he would not give up on his wife, Gina, after she was diagnosed with a life-shortening disease and then pneumonia. Credit: Supplied
After exhausting all treatment options in Australia, Gina and her husband flew to the United States in earlier this month to try three new drugs.
About a week after arriving in Boston, Gina had a high-temperature and experienced difficulty breathing, Matt said.
At the Massachusetts General Hospital, doctors told Matt his wife had contracted pneumonia, so she was put on a ventilator in the intensive care unit.
Within days, Gina was intubated as she severely struggled to breathe.
Matt said his wife requires emergency surgery for a permanent trachea, but he fears her travel insurance won’t cover the cost of surgery if they believe the pneumonia is related to her previous MND diagnosis.
If they do not receive an insurance payout and, if Gina’s doctors in Melbourne approve, the family’s first option is to put Gina on a $200,000 medical evacuation flight back to Australia to receive treatment.
If Gina were to have surgery in the US, it would set them back $US200,000, plus the cost of the flight to return her home on the medical evacuation flight after the operation.
Already, Gina’s medical bills are costing as much as $US15,000 a day, Matt said.
Gina Wherrett is currently in a US hospital on a ventilator after being diagnosed with pneumonia. Credit: Supplied
He said the alternative is that Gina is taken off the breathing supports, effectively ending her life.
“Gina has strongly indicated that she does not want to go down that path (of turning off support) even though it’s going to require major life-changing things to start to happen at home,” Matt said.
“She wants to continue (living).
“I can’t abandon her and nor do I want it to be that I’m standing at the end of the bed and saying (to her) money is stopping me from keeping you alive, and now they’re going to pull the plug.”
An online fundraiser set up by the family to cover Gina’s medical bills has so far raised more than $14,700.
Matt Wherrett has been supporting his wife, Gina, while she’s intubated in a US hospital. Credit: Supplied
“More than anything, we want mum to get safely home. She loves her home and just wants to be with the people she loves,” her son, Sam Wherrett, said.
Sam said in the past, his mother put her own life on hold to support other sick members of the family, including her own mother-in-law.
He stressed the family would not give up on her during this time.
“Ever since I can remember, mum’s been the matriarch or backbone of the family,” Sam said.
The Wherrett family are also seeking support from the Federal Government to help bring Gina back to Melbourne, but Matt was told the Commonwealth Government cannot assist with the medical costs.
“We’re putting a price on someone’s life, that’s the end of it,” Matt said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says it is providing consular assistance and couldn’t comment further.