'No Money Left': Aussie Receiving Life-Changing Treatment For Rare Disorder Stuck In South Korea
An Australian woman who travelled to South Korea to have life-changing treatment for a rare muscle disorder has been left stranded due to the coronavirus outbreak.
What was supposed to be a medically revolutionary trip for 30-year-old Stacey Woollams has turned into a bit of a nightmare, after the outbreak of Covid-19 prompted flight cancellations and border closures.
Woollams has a rare muscle disorder called Dystonia which often develops at birth and triggers involuntary muscle contractions that cause repetitive or twisting movements.
She can no longer drive because of the pain, or do some simple tasks such holding a glass and drinking from it.
Prior to treatment she was also struggling to hold her head up without assistance because the disorder predominantly affects the muscles in her neck, head and jaw.
A long trip abroad and $16,000 treatment might sound extreme, but if it meant preserving her livelihood, Woollams was prepared to do anything.
Speaking to 10 daily, Woollams said she arrived in South Korea at the beginning of the month when the federal government's travel advice was to "exercise caution".
"I didn’t think there would be issues and since this treatment was so important to me, we [Wollams and her mother] decided to come anyway, as the risk was still quite low at that point," she explained.
Woollams is currently based in the city of Cheonan -- about an hour and a half drive from Seoul -- where the Rehabilitation Exercise Centre is located.
Currently the stranded duo is struggling to find clear information about what to do, but the situation is evolving everyday, she acknowledged.
"I am receiving my updates through the Smart Traveler website and also checking my airline updates, but as you can imagine they are experiencing huge volumes of calls and emails," she said.
"When I check my current flight status it says suspended. I received an email from Qantas stating that they are letting people change or cancel their flights for a short period of time and they will waive the change fee, so I have submitted a request."
Woollams was scheduled to leave on April 1 but cannot depart until at least the end of April now and is still waiting for a response from the airline.
South Korea has been one of the worst hit nations by Covid-19, with more than 8,500 confirmed cases and 91 deaths.
Like many other stranded Australians, Woollams is almost out of money and cannot afford to be abroad for longer. But there's currently no way home.
Her situation prompted her sister Renee Dubé, 33, to start a GoFundMe campaign in a bid to raise some money to help pay for the treatment and living expenses.
"We're unsure when Stacey will be able to come home at this point so we're trying to see the silver lining. While she's stuck there she may as well finish up her treatment," Dubé told 10 daily.
The original plan was that Woollams would spend a month abroad having intensive treatment before coming home to save some more money. She would then head back over when she had the funds to finish her treatment.
"As you can imagine, the treatment is not cheap and Stacey's travel and private health insurance doesn't cover any of this," Dubé explained.
"She's also currently on leave without pay and still has bills to pay at home."
So far treatment is going well, according to Woollams who works as a marketing manager and logistics coordinator at a flower delivery company in Newcastle.
"My right shoulder sits higher than my left but this has improved a lot. It is also getting easier for me to hold my head up without the support of my hand," she said.
The treatment is intense and she spends five days at the clinic between 9am and 6pm where she receives acupuncture, cupping and neck adjustments, not to mention the hours spent in the gym with specialist physios.
The doctors she is working with have a high success rate, according to Dubé, who said another client with the same disorder spend almost a year at the clinic and returned to Australia completely cured.
"It would be incredible for her to go out and eat without being embarrassed," she said.
"We know these are trying times we're living in, but anything you can spare would be so greatly appreciated. This treatment is absolutely life-changing for Stacey."