Saxon desperately needs a bone marrow transplant. It’s one of many surgeries delayed due to COVID-19

0:00

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the federal government placed a ban on elective surgeries across Australia. But for many, those cancelled surgeries were not optional, they were life changing.

The federal government's move to ban elective surgeries during the pandemic on March 26 left many in limbo -- with 50,000 procedures postponed at public hospitals.

And now, as elective surgeries restart, a backlog is forming. There are 760,000 Australians who undergo elective surgery in public hospitals every year, while over a million opt for private procedures. The average wait time for an elective surgery is 41 days but now over 15,000 people will have to wait more than a year for their operation.

Saxon Onyszczuk, who is three-years-old, was one of the people affected by the ban. He suffers from an autoimmune disease called aplastic anaemia, which means he doesn't produce enough blood and his immune system is basically non-existent.

Each day, parents Sarah and Dave Onyszczuk take their young son into the backyard to feed their chickens. It's a short walk, but it's as far as he can go right now. It hasn't stopped the smile that rounds Saxon's face, his mother says he takes everything in his stride with a joke and grin.

"Saxon's just a little trooper. Like, most of the time you wouldn't know he's a sick kid," Sarah told The Feed.

Dave struggles thinking about how Saxon can't explore the world like he once did, "he can't go outside and get dirty" playing like any other kid.

"If Saxon gets the common cold or any sort of bacterial or fungal infection it's potentially life threatening for him," Sarah said.

To treat Saxon's condition, the couple were recommended for Saxon to undergo a bone marrow transplant, which has a 90 percent cure rate.

It was a struggle to find a donor match, but the family did locate one in Germany. And just as the bone marrow transplant was being secured -- the global coronavirus shutdown began.

"Saxon's procedure is not considered elective but for the bone marrow donor it's considered elective to donate because they don't necessarily need to for their health," Sarah said.

The ban on elective surgeries in Germany meant the donor wasn't able to give their bone marrow donation surgery. And if they were, the international travel ban posed another difficult hurdle.

"We lost kids before and we were hoping this was going to be like an answer to those unknown questions," Dave said.

"It was just very heartbreaking to actually be told that this treatment option was taken off the table and now we've gotta sort of fill that void."

Kaye was meant to have urgent cataract surgery. Then it was cancelled.

Canberra based Kaye Powell misses her grandchildren. Her closest contact with them is over video chats that she struggles to get through without crying. And now with her eyesight rapidly worsening, that too might be taken away from her.

"If I do Zoom or FaceTime it's sad, I miss them. So, I'd rather not do it because I'll end up crying in front of them and I don't wanna upset them," Kaye told The Feed.

The cataracts in Kaye's eyes are so severe she was due to go into surgery just weeks after being diagnosed.

"Each morning I wake up and it's worse -- it's not any better," she said.

She looks into the camera and says, "You're a blur. I know you're sitting there, I can't see your face and I can't see your features."

Kaye received a call from the hospital confirming that her surgery was going ahead -- and then it was cancelled.

"I was so mad," she said.

"In actual fact I just looked up and said, why don't you pick on somebody else, I've had enough.

"It's so hard now -- I can't do anything, I'm stuck -- and I hate it. I would hate not to be able to hear or see, they're my two worst fears. But ah, don't make me cry."

It's been a tough waiting game for Kaye, with much uncertainty over the last few weeks. Luckily, Kaye may not be feeling stuck for much longer. The operation to resolve her cataracts is scheduled for May 28.

There are only so many doctors and surgeons

Leanne Wells is the CEO of the Consumers Health Forum of Australia. She says hospital resources aren't a magic pudding, and there are limits to how many beds are available.

"There are only a certain amount of surgeons, doctors. There are only a certain amount of ventilators," Wells told The Feed.

Wells says if there was a surge of COVID-19 cases, especially identifying what was happening overseas, and concurrently treating other emergency patients -- something needed to be done.

"I think as a community, we've got to bring it back to the trade offs. It's our biggest public health challenge for, for over 100 years."


People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits. Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

The federal government's coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe is available for download from your phone's app store.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.