Couple hail Indian medical program after five-month treatment

A Matautu man who travelled with his wife as she completed five months' cancer treatment in India has hailed a new medical transfer program that gives Samoan patients access to medical treatment in the subcontinent. 

Fuaiupolu Pausa Solomua and his wife, Tekauita Moto Lafaele, travelled to Hyderabad in India's south for her treatment of a rare kind of cancer at the Apollo Hospital under a Ministry of Health program introduced last year. 

The overseas transfer was recommended by Tekauita's treating doctor, Sione Fereti, at the Tupua Tamasese Meaole (TTM) National Hospital in Apia only after a clear diagnosis could not be established due to a lack of local medical equipment. 

"We went to see doctor Sione and they did a biopsy on her and they couldn’t identify what was happening to her because they didn’t have the special equipment in the lab to find out.

"Sione said it was probably cancer and, by that time, my wife’s tonsils got worse with her neck swelling. So it was by [our doctor's] recommendation that we went to India and what the Indian doctors did was exactly what Sione said."

Tekauita was eventually diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer a rare type of head and neck cancer which occurs in about 1 in 100,000 people, according to the American Cancer Society. 

After, Tekauita, 48, underwent surgery at the Apollo Hospital her treatment was declared successful. 

These results, Fuaiupolu said, made five months of treatment and the sometimes testing journey overseas worthwhile. 

"Everything is there, MRI machines, CT scans, the radiation treatment, it’s all in one big hospital," he said. 

"And the treatment we got from the people in the hospital, we couldn’t get it from anywhere else I mean they took care of us like we're not just patients but like we were families.

"The treatment inside the hospital was worth it; the doctors were very trustworthy; the facilities are very good and comforting."

A deal was struck between Apollo Hospital and the Ministry of Health (M.O.H.) in mid-2018 extending the option for local patients with heart, cancer and kidney conditions to receive treatment.

The Ministry of Health (M.O.H.) paid for Tekauita's medical expenses under the medical treatment scheme; Fuaiupolu paid for his own airfare, which cost almost $10,000 tala plus US$1,000 to cover expenses (T$2,603). 

Fuaiupolu said the program's conditions required his wife to travel with a caregiver but he did not think twice about cost.

"Given my wife’s condition back then, I needed to go; money cannot be exchanged for the life of my wife, so I had to take risks."

Fuaiupolu said he felt lucky to be able to travel for treatment.

"Initially, there were a lot of rumours spreading about this scheme: that it is not safe because it’s too far and it’s unreliable but, from our own experience, it was worth the risks," he said.

"Our own experience in India was that everything was one hundred percent: the treatment inside the hospital was worth it; the doctors were very trustworthy; the facilities are very good and comforting."

Fuaiupolu said the chance to experience life in India during her successful treatment made he and his wife grateful in another, less expected way: by returning home with a renewed appreciation for Samoa's natural gifts and sense of community. 

"We live here in Samoa, [a] beautiful country: everything we do is beautiful but you will never know how much you until you [leave].

"I was able to realise how lucky our country is".

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