Laura Agnello will never forget the moment doctors gave her father a death sentence.
Her dad Sam’s brain tumour had returned after four years and he was given only months to live.
‘There’s nothing more we can do,’ they said. Surgeons in Sam’s hometown of Perth, Western Australia, refused to operate. The surgery would kill him, they said.
But 12 years later, Sam Agnello is still alive. He has watched his two sons marry, met his grandchildren and will turn 67 in August.
The reason for that is brain surgeon Dr Charlie Teo, Laura said – as she blasted recent attacks on the controversial doctor and his hefty bills as ‘disgusting’.
Charlie’s angels: Cancer survivor Sam Agnello, with his daughter Laura, defended Dr Charlie Teo
Dr Teo (left and right) came under fire for his hefty bills – but Dr Teo says most of the money goes toward the cost of private hospitals, and he only received $8,000 from a $120,000 surgery recently
Dr Teo has been under fire after a leading Sydney urological expert, Professor Henry Woo, criticised the system where patients are now having to fundraise online to pay for their surgeries.
Dr Woo this week counted 113 GoFundMe pages dedicated to sourcing funds for Dr Teo to operate on various conditions – and then fired off a series of tweets.
Abused by Twitter trolls: Teo critic Dr Henry Woo
‘Something is seriously wrong if a terminally ill girl with a brain tumour has to raise $120K to have surgery Dr Charlie Teo has offered to do for $60-80K,’ he wrote.
‘If it was valid surgery, it could/should be performed in the public system under Medicare.’
Dr Teo, 61, has fired back – saying he only takes home about $8,000 for a treatment costing $120,000. He would work for free if he could, he claimed.
The public brawl has gotten ugly, with Dr Woo – a respected prostate cancer professional – copping an onslaught of abuse and being driven off social media.
The price of hope
A number of doctors, speaking on the condition of anonymity, say some of Dr Woo’s criticisms of Dr Teo’s practices are valid.
But Laura is far from alone among patients who have publicly supported Dr Teo, telling Daily Mail Australia: ‘You can’t put a price on it (hope).’
Her father’s 2007 surgery cost the family about $50,000, two thirds of which was covered by private health insurance.
Dr Charlie Teo with Amelia ‘Milli’ Lucas, who he will operate on next week
They were left on the hook for about $10,000 to $15,000, with relatives kindly kicking in to help the family out.
Today, the family of a 12-year-old girl whose $150,000 GoFundMe fundraising efforts sparked Dr Woo’s tweets also spoke out in Dr Teo’s defence.
Monica Smirk, the mother of sick twin Milli Lucas, said: ‘Dr Teo is a genius, and he gets slammed everyday for his work. He does NOT deserve this’.
(Some of the money for the girl – suffering a recurring brain tumour – will go toward her treatment in Mexico.)
A West Australian wine critic also took to the pages of the state’s newspaper today saying Dr Teo’s operation gave his son 12 ‘precious years’.
His three operations cost $75,000. ‘People go to Charlie when they run out of options,’ Ray Jordan wrote. ‘Charlie saved my son’.
‘I know for a fact that some people have never paid for Charlie saving their lives and he has never followed them up.’
Millie Lucas with her parents Monica and Grant. She is expected to go in for an operation with Dr Teo next week
‘I can get your dad’s tumour out’
Laura was distraught when doctors gave her the devastating news they could not help her father.
And while Laura was hopeful after watching a 60 Minutes segment about Dr Teo, she couldn’t get it signed off by doctors.
‘Nobody will refer you to him’ she fumed. She then called his office in Sydney directly.
After reviewing Sam’s scans, Dr Teo called her while she ate dinner with friends. ‘You know your dad’s tumour? I can get it out,’ he said.
Her father flew over to Sydney – despite a lifelong fear of planes – and Dr Teo operated.
After surgery, Dr Teo told Sam it would give him another two years. Twelve years later, he’s still going – with the care of his wife.
Sam Angello with his wife Maria. Dr Teo thought he was giving him two more years, but he has lived for 12 since his tumour returned
Sam Agnello at home with his family – wife Maria on right and daughter Laura on the floor
The chemotherapy and radiation from years of treatment paralysed her father on his right side, and his speech is impaired.
‘He’s all there, he’s still got a quality of life, his speech is just a little bit slow,’ Laura said.
The cancer still lingers, but Laura’s dad has said he’s done with medical treatment – and has chosen not to go for scans for five years.
What upset Laura about the debate this week is the thought of what will happen to people like her father in the future, when Charlie Teo is no longer around.
‘What happens when he stops conducting surgeries, due to old age or wanting to retire?’ she asked.
‘What happens to all the people that he operates on that no one else will?’