Jeni desperately needs a new face, but has been told she’s on the waiting list for a breast reduction.
Jeni desperately needs a new face, but has been told she’s on the waiting list for a breast reduction. Chris Ison

The final insult

TERMINALLY ill and desperate for reconstructive surgery on her cancer-ravaged face, Jeni Lee is reeling after being told she's on a hospital waiting list for breast reduction.

Jeni, who lives in Emu Park, says she was left angry and bemused by the mix-up and is convinced the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane is reluctant to carry out the complex facial reconstruction she needs because no-one knows how long she has left to live.

She's been waiting 18 months for plastic surgery to give her a new nose and eye-socket and rebuild her top lip after a rare sarcoma devoured her facial tissue.

On Monday afternoon she got the call she'd been waiting for, from the office of the director of plastic surgery at the hospital. But instead of being given the date she craved, she was told she was on a different list.

"The girl in the office told me that I was down for a breast reduction.

"How absolutely and totally incompetent is this hospital?

"Do they intend to remove my breasts and reconstruct my face from the tissues?" said Jeni.

The businesswoman, who has had to retire since contracting the voracious tumour, says she has no money to pay for surgery privately after spending $185,000 on medical bills in the past two years.

"I can't get private health cover any more because of my illness so I'm reliant on the public system.

"This is about my dignity in the time I have left, but they will not give me any dignity.

"I was told there are 1277 on the waiting list for plastic surgery and they don't regard me as a high priority, but this is just appalling."

Furious MP Paul Hoolihan raised the issue with the Health Minister's office yesterday and demanded answers for his constituent.

The Member for Keppel said: "I want to get to the bottom of this and I have expressed my annoyance with the way Jeni has been treated.

"There's only so much you can take and the hospital staff should start to do what they are paid for.

"I'm angry for her that she's been treated with such contempt. It's just not good enough."

Early last night, Princess Alexandra Hospital executive director Dr Richard Ashby said Ms Lee's appointment with the hospital's specialist plastic surgeon would take place next month.

"This is within the clinically recommended timeframes," Dr Ashby said.

"She is listed as requiring a consultation with a plastic surgeon to discuss a facial reconstruction.

"We have apologised unreservedly to the patient for referring to the wrong type of reconstructive surgery during a telephone conversation.

"We appreciate this is a distressing time for this patient."

He said the hospital did not want to exacerbate the situation by further comment.