A desperate father made an extraordinary offer to sell his organs to pay for his daughter’s life-saving surgery after being told by doctors that she had just months to live.
Seven-year-old Bella Howard from Newcastle, New South Wales was diagnosed with deadly diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas after an aggressive tumour was found at the base of her brain on April 20.
Doctors told her heartbroken father Gene, 37, that she had just three months to live.
In a last-ditch attempt to save his daughter’s life, Mr Howard turned to Dr Charlie Teo – a high-profile surgeon who had performed similar operations in the past.
Despite losing his job just months earlier, Mr Howard made a mad scramble to raise $100,000 in just hours to pay for the procedure – saying he would’ve robbed a bank if it meant he was able to get the money.
‘The doctors said the tumour is on the brain stem, it is untreatable, we were out of our minds. The idiots at the hospital said she’s gone mate, she’s got three months,’ Mr Howard told the Daily Telegraph.
Bella underwent surgery at Prince of Wales Private in Randwick, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs on Wednesday
Doctors told her father Gene Howard (pictured with Bella) that she would have up to two years to live after only offering treatment via radiation therapy
Dr Charlie Teo (pictured) saw Bella’s MRI on Monday and described it as the ‘worst type of tumour’ saying she had only six weeks to live
Desperate to come up with the remaining amount, Mr Howard even offered to sell his organs to a hospital.
‘We had no choice, I rang the hospital to sell one of my organs and they rang the police on me. They told us she (would die) and there was no option,’ he said.
A GoFundMe campaign for Bella generated $111,000 – more than enough to cover the rest of the cost of the surgery.
Bella underwent surgery at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Randwick, Sydney on Wednesday, and is recovering in a critical care unit.
Dr Teo’s fee for Bella’s surgery was criticised by Sydney University professor of surgery Dr Henry Woo.
‘Why isn’t this surgery being performed in the public hospital system if the patient is from NSW? Dr Teo does have a public hospital appointment at Sydney Children’s Hospital. Is Dr Teo’s personal fee really $60,000?’ he tweeted.
Mr Howard defended Dr Teo – saying he had ‘no choice’ but to act quickly to save his daughter’s life.
Mr Howard (right with Bella) couldn’t believe that doctors would not refer him to Dr Teo who had many successes with complicated brain surgeries
‘He said she had to go into surgery so I had to find that money. She could get 10 years, she could get 12 months, or 30 years, but there was no choice. I was going to rob a bank if I had to,’ Mr Howard said.
Dr Teo has previously defended his fees, saying that for surgeries that cost $120,000, $80,000 of that goes to the hospital while $40,000 went to him and his team. He said his fee for surgeries varies between $8,000 and $15,000.
Bella Howard was diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas (DIPG), a highly aggressive brain tumour which was found at the base of her brain on April 30
Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Gliomas
DIPG is an aggressive brain tumour found at the base of the brain.
They are glial tumours, meaning they arise from the brain’s glial tissue (tissue made up of cells that help support and protect the brain’s neurons).
These tumours are found in an area of the brainstem which controls many of the body’s most vital functions such as breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate.
DIPG account for 10 percent of all childhood central nervous system tumours.
It is estimated to affect around 20 children aged 0-14 years, each year in Australia.
Less than 10% of children are alive two years after diagnosis.
Bella was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour found at the base of her brain
Bella (pictured) is currently recovering in the intensive critical care unit following her surgery
Dr Teo performed similar surgery on ‘miracle girl’ Milli Lucas.
The 13-year-old was hit with the devastating news last month that her cancerous tumour had returned after the renowned neurosurgeon wiped out 98 per cent of the growth on her brain stem following a life-saving procedure in Sydney in June 2019.
Milli and her father Grant Lucas travelled from Perth to Sydney on April 7 so Dr Teo could perform his second operation on her after doctors in Western Australia again refused to carry out the procedure amid fears of paralysis or even death.
On the morning of Wednesday, April 8, little Milli went into surgery – as Dr Teo told the family he feared she may not walk, talk or see again after the surgery.
Dr Charlie Teo (pictured with Milli last year) performed a second operation on Milli Lucas after he wiped out 98 per cent of the growth on her brain stem following a life-saving procedure
But against all odds, the brave young schoolgirl proved to be a fighter following the ‘hugely successful’ operation.
‘Charlie was very very worried that when she came out of surgery she may not walk, she may not talk and she may not see,’ her mother Monica Smirk told 6PR radio.
‘So we were nervous but she comes out of ICU on Thursday morning – talking, walking and basically told her dad that the food in the hospital wasn’t the best and asked him to “go and get me a steak please”.
‘Charlie had tears in his eyes, he’s like “Milli, you’re amazing, you are incredible”. He couldn’t believe that she woke up so well.’
WHO IS CHARLIE TEO?
Charlie Teo is a Sydney-based neurosurgeon and director of the Centre for Minimally Invasive Neurosurgery at Prince of Wales Hospital in Randwick.
The doctor has garnered international media attention for his reputation to take on ‘inoperable’ or high-risk cases.
Dr Charlie Teo
Teo has been praised for his practices but has also been the subject of criticism for his ‘controversial methods’ and for offering patients ‘false hope’.
Among his notable patients is Australian pianist Aaron McMillan, 30, who was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor in 2001.
Dr Teo successfully removed the tumour, but it unfortunately returned two years later and led to McMillan’s death in 2007.
Teo also treated 2UE radio broadcaster Stan Zemanek during his battle with glioblastoma in 2006.
Teo spent ten years working in the US after claiming he was unable to secure work due to his ‘bad name in Australia’.
The surgeon has defended his methods saying he is willing to extend patients’ lives if they are not ready to give into their illness.