GROWING UP: Living with cystic fibrosis has meant a constant battle against bacteria for Warwick student Holly Aspinall, but plenty of exercise and activity help keep her lungs healthy.
GROWING UP: Living with cystic fibrosis has meant a constant battle against bacteria for Warwick student Holly Aspinall, but plenty of exercise and activity help keep her lungs healthy. Marian Faa

Young patients worry over risky adult ward

SHARING a bathroom with strangers is nothing more than an unpleasant inconvenience for most of us, but for 14-year-old Warwick student Holly Aspinall it poses a very real threat - one that might dawn on her sooner rather than later.

Living with cystic fibrosis, Holly spends her life warding off bacteria because even a common cold could land her in a Brisbane hospital under specialist care for weeks on end as her body struggles to fight the infection.

But recent horror stories which have emerged from Queensland's only adult cystic fibrosis ward make Holly and her family wonder if all their efforts will be in vain when she comes of age.

Since she was a baby, Holly and her family have done everything they could to avoid cross-contamination from other patients during Holly's regular hospital admissions.

"Because of the way cystic fibrosis affects the mucus and the lungs, some of the infections can take a long time to eradicate," Holly's mother Jody said.

"You're in there to treat one thing and the risk of picking up another one could prolong your time in hospital."

For Holly, time spent in hospital means long periods away from her home, school and her friends as well as out-of-pocket expenses for her family.

So far, the first-class facilities at the Lady Cilento Children's Hospital have helped Holly keep her admissions down to two per year.

But the impressive level of care may come to an end sooner rather than later, with doctors already talking about Holly's transition into the adult cystic fibrosis ward at the Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane.

It's bound to be a difficult time getting used to new doctors and facilities, without the added worrying about increased risk of cross-infection.

But if vital upgrades to the ward continue to be delayed, it may be a reality Holly has to face.

"I do share the concerns of the adult cystic fibrosis patients in Queensland because transitioning to the adult hospital treatment will be difficult for Holly if it is not the same level of facilities," Mrs Aspinall said.

 

LIFE IN THE COUNTRY: Year 8 Assumption College student Holly Aspinall loves art, swimming and spending time outdoors. But growing up with cystic fibrosis has meant lots of time in Brisbane hospitals, away from home.
LIFE IN THE COUNTRY: Year 8 Assumption College student Holly Aspinall loves art, swimming and spending time outdoors. But growing up with cystic fibrosis has meant lots of time in Brisbane hospitals, away from home. Marian Faa

Despite former health minister Cameron Dick saying the ward posed a "risk" of cross-infection in 2015, upgrades to the adult facility have been stalled.

"They wouldn't dream of putting a cystic fibrosis patient in a shared bathroom with another patient at the Lady Cilento," said Mrs Aspinall said.

"It is really room availability too, that is a big issue. My cousin (in Brisbane) who has CF has some horror stories of sharing multi-ward rooms because single rooms haven't been available.

"Having a single room and ensuite means you are isolated from other patients and their visitors so the risk of infection is less."

Prince Charles Hospital's executive director of medical services, Donna O'Sullivan defended the ward in a statement to The Courier Mail saying it was a "internationally renowned" facility with patient outcomes comparable to the rest of the country.

"We have continued to make improvements to the unit over the last couple of years and we are planning to provide ensuite bathrooms in the CF unit," she said.

But as the only adult cystic fibrosis ward in the state, Holly's family will be praying for improvements before she turns 18.

"If they are going to build new facilities it needs to mirror the facilities that we have now with private rooms and private bathrooms," Mrs Aspinall said.

Living in a rural area presented other issues for the Aspinall such as access to regular physiotherapy and medication, poor internet connection for tele-health services and managing bacteria in tank water on their rural property just outside Warwick.

"There's not much awareness about cystic fibrosis so there's just not that much funding there to help families and patients," Mrs Aspinall said.



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