Patient counts the cost of just staying alive
Samuel Lo Siu-fung needs a machine to help him breathe, and enough money to keep it working
Samuel Lo Siu-fung, who has a muscle-degenerative disease, is already using a machine to help him breathe, and tries not to think about what might happen were his condition to worsen.
At 29, Lo has lived with spinal muscular atrophy since he was six, was wheelchair-bound by 12, and started using the machine, which he attaches to his nostrils, in 2006 when he was 22. In the beginning he was plugged in to it only at night, but currently can go without it just a few hours a day.
His medical bills - over HK$10,000 per month - will only increase, putting a strain on the already-tight family budget. Lo bought his breathing machine for HK$60,000 several years ago, but needs to fork out HK$9,000 for maintenance every year. He also rents a second one, which is portable, so he can go out.
The family employs a domestic helper, Nanik, to take care of Lo, who needs to be lifted everywhere he goes. Lo lives with his mum, dad and sister in public housing and is not on welfare. He also does not qualify for a respiratory machine subsidy offered by the government's Community Care Fund.
Critics say families of patients like Lo are being forced into drastic measures to finance the cost of their breathing apparatus, and in some cases patients have chosen to die to save loved ones the financial and emotional stress.
Lo is worried about the strain on his family. He receives HK$6,000 from trust funds and a government handicap subsidy every month, while his mother and sister earn a combined income of around HK$25,000. His father's pension pays out HK$2,000. If the bills continue to pile up, Lo said they will have no choice but to go on welfare.
"This means my sister will have to move out and my mother stop working," he said, in order for them to qualify through a lowering of the household income.
Asked about his biggest fear, Lo said: "That medical bills continue to climb, while I fail to die."