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Health battle gives rise to special bond

Published:  19 September 2022

When Donald Pedro came to Townsville University Hospital thinking he might lose his left foot, he had no idea he would gain a sister.

As Donald lay in his hospital bed awaiting treatment for type two diabetes, an unexpected visitor came to say hello.

Sammy-Jo Kupfer, a proud Kalkadoon woman, introduced herself as a nurse navigator and before talk could turn to clinical things like symptoms or medical history, they simply had a yarn.

From those humble words, a special bond was born.

“When the docs explained what was happening to me, I just looked at them blankly because I had no idea what they were talking about,” Donald said.

“But when I spoke to Sammy-Jo that day, she explained everything in a way that opened my eyes.”

After that first meeting, Donald spent a lot of time in hospital.

Some days he was there for appointments to treat the diabetes that was impairing the health of his left foot, while other days, he received the dialysis that kept him alive.

But no matter how daunting each hospital visit was, thanks to Sammy-Jo, Donald was never alone.

“If I didn’t have someone like her, I probably would have lost my foot already because I knew nothing about looking after myself with diabetes,” Donald said.

“I can ring her any time to chat when I’m feeling a bit down, and she just lifts me up.

“She’s like a sister; she even comes over my place sometimes as part of the hospital’s outreach service to make sure I’m going alright.”

In the past year, Donald’s health battles were derailed by personal tragedy, with the death of a close family member.

With that loss and enduring grief came family responsibilities, which Donald prioritised before his own health.

Sammy-Jo understood in a way most non-Indigenous people never could.

“When our people go through grief and loss – sorry business – that becomes our number-one priority,” Sammy-Jo said.

“It’s been good for Don to have someone like me, because I understand what he needs to do for his family but can also make sure he maintains his health at the same time.”

Sammy-Jo worked in a wide range of hospital environments, including oncology, emergency, and geriatrics, plus a rural stint in Cloncurry, before the opportunity to become a nurse navigator arose several years ago.

The role combines the advanced skills of registered nursing with a personal approach to patient care.

Nurse navigators become the central point of communication and support for patients who are consistently in hospital with complex health conditions.

“I love this role because our people need a holistic approach to their healthcare,” Sammy-Jo said.

“It’s not just about treating a patient; it’s about building a meaningful connection with them.”

And that meaningful connection will be needed as Donald faces the challenges ahead.

The possibility of a below-the-knee amputation still remains.

“I’m just making sure he understands all the possibilities and is well informed before consenting to a procedure that will change his life dramatically,” Sammy-Jo said.

If Donald does end up losing his foot, Sammy-Jo will help him access all the vital services he’ll need but, most of all, she’ll make sure he’s not going on this journey alone.

“I’m so proud that I can be there for Don and I’m grateful that I can help our people and give them an understanding of their medical conditions.”

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