The hidden cost of rural sickness

SISTERLY LOVE: Ava, 4, and Sadie Lester, 2, shortly before Ava's leukimia diagnosis uprooted the family to Melbourne for treatment. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

SISTERLY LOVE: Ava, 4, and Sadie Lester, 2, shortly before Ava's leukimia diagnosis uprooted the family to Melbourne for treatment. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

MORE than 400 kilometres from home, facing costs of $50,000 and battling for their daughter, one Wimmera family has shed a light on the extra hardship many rural families face when a loved one is sick. 

After their four-year-old daughter Ava was diagnosed with leukemia, Rainbow’s Emma and Paul Lester along with their two-year-old daughter Sadie were forced to temporarily transport their lives to Melbourne. 

Mrs Lester said Ava was diagnosed on July 27 at Horsham’s Wimmera Base Hospital before immediately being taken by air ambulance to Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital for treatment. 

She said Ava would need treatment for at least nine months.

“It’s nine months minimum, it would be more now because she’s been so crook,” Mrs Lester said. 

“We could only just start the second stage of treatment because she’s been having fevers, we’re about a month behind.

“She’s a tough little kid, she’s getting through it and manages to smile every day, which is the best we can hope for.”

On top of dealing with a life-altering diagnosis and sick child, the Lester’s face mounting costs due to the inability to get treatment closer to home. 

Mrs Lester said the family set up an online fundraiser to assist with expenses after they were unable to secure any charity accommodation. 

The Leukemia Foundation has 12 apartment throughout Melbourne to support regional families.

“We’re on the wait list for accommodation but there’s nothing available so we’ve had no choice but to source it privately,” Mrs Lester said. 

“There’s only a few units available and if someone’s in it unfortunately you’re out on your own.”

Mrs Lester said the family remained on wait lists but it was hard to know how close they were to getting a property. 

“It’s not straightforward,” she said.

“It all depends what the children’s treatment is, they could be there and intend to be out in a month but something could pop up – that’s how it is with sick children.”

The couple run their own business, with husband Paul set to return to Rainbow at the end of the month. 

MOTHERLY LOVE: Emma and Ava Lester, 4, at the Royal Children's Hospital where Ava is undergoing treatment for leukemia.

MOTHERLY LOVE: Emma and Ava Lester, 4, at the Royal Children's Hospital where Ava is undergoing treatment for leukemia.

Mrs Lester said more should be done to assist rural families during these trying emotional and financial times. 

“There should be more support for people in similar situations,” she said. 

“There are so many people in hospital not from Melbourne.

“Ronald McDonald House is great but it’s only short term so they can only sort out a couple of weeks – we need to be in Melbourne for at least nine months for Ava’s treatment.”

Mrs Lester said the thousands of dollars required for accommodation was a huge strain on the family.

“It’s a huge financial burden,” she said.

“We’ve got a couple mortgages, equipment loans and car loans.

“To run the house and pay rent in Melbourne, we’re looking at $50,000 minimum.

“You can’t budget for this, it’s so much that you couldn’t manage, even if you planned for it.

“It’s a lot money to have at no notice – to keep on top all other obligations and do this, it’s really, really difficult.”

Mrs Lester set up an online fundraiser in August to assist with the costs.

She said asking for help did not come naturally to the family but the response had been overwhelming. 

“Honestly it’s really strange,” she said. 

“It’s a difficult situation to put yourself in to ask for help but in the end it’s amazing what people are willing to do. 

“It’s silly it seems so hard. 

“There are a lot of good people out there willing to do so much for someone else.”

Mrs Lester said the response from Rainbow and Murrayville, where they previously lived, had been fantastic. 

“It’s amazing,” she said. 

“They’ve been our biggest fans.

“It’s unreal, everyone is so willing to do different things to help, not just donations but also checking on our place or anything.

“We really appreciate it all.”

Mrs Lester said to support the family people could go to their gofundme page here.

- The Wimmera Mail-Times

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