Justine is pictured here with Karlia from Mackay. Justine has supported Karlia and assisted with transfers between airport and Ronald Mc Donald house for over 7 years. The wheelchair accessible vehicle was purchased with Karlia in mind – it enables easy transfer to and from the van.
Like Rural Doctors Foundation, Justine is small yet mighty with a lot of heart. She is a down to earth rural hero who is wife to Gary and mum to her three kids – Shalia aged 22, Tianna 16 and Korbyn 14 yrs old.
And for most, being a wife to a DIDO hubby and mum to three kids is enough to keep you busy – but after significant events in her life – Justine was not content to sit back – she felt there was more she could do to help others in need.
But it was a few years before Justine was able to put her plan into action.
Her story is one of heartache, compassion, tenacity and determination.
How it all began
In 2010, Justine was living in the rural town of Biloela in Queensland, when the tight knit community was shattered by a tragic car accident involving three local teenagers – two from Biloela and one from Gracemere. Sadly, one man died because of the accident and two families were faced with the challenge of how to care for their injured daughters while maintaining some stability and security for their family They had to organise travel and accommodation to be with their child as they began the long road to recovery and rehabilitation far away from the community of Biloela.
This hit Justine hard as she questioned how she would cope in the same situation. Having no immediate family close by Justine wondered, “who would look after my kids – get them to school and make sure they had healthy meals? How would we pay the rent if we were not working – and how would we pay for the airfares and accommodation to get to Brisbane?” With these questions fresh in her mind, Justine galvanised the community and organised a fundraising event to support these families in need. The community raised over $10,000 and as Justine shared, “this barely touched the sides of their expenses”. This is when I first realised more needs to be done for those patients and family who are transferred under emergency circumstances.
Even closer to home
A few years later, Justine’s son, Korbyn was rushed to the local hospital due to a hernia and was immediately transferred to Rockhampton Hospital. Justine travelled with Korbyn to Rockhampton with no change of clothing, no toothbrush and very little besides.
Not long after, Korbyn was bitten by a snake and was airlifted – again to Rockhampton – by the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Justine jumped into the aircraft and did not even have her handbag – such was the distress at the time.
With these experiences, the seed was planted as to what Justine needed to do. Still living in Biloela, it was not yet possible. However, as often happens with great ideas, fate had a way of making such her vision possible.
In 2012, Justine’s husband was transferred with his work. The family packed up and left Biloela and moved to Brisbane Justine’s family knew that her dream and her destiny were about to be realised.
It all began with Justine helping a friend who had come down from Biloela when her child was diagnosed with cancer. Justine did what she could – looked after her friends’ son, while his Mum organised prescriptions, delivered home cooked meals and ensured her friend and son made it to their medical appointments. Justine also found out from her friend about the Patient Travel Subsidy Scheme (PTSS) – a life saver for her friend who was regularly travelling between Biloela and Brisbane – struggling to cover the costs of her travel and accommodation. This was something Justine had not been informed of. Justine then advocated for better access to information about the PTSS as too many were missing put on accessing health care because of financial restraints.
Word soon spread and many cancer patients’ families were able to benefit from the support that Justine provided. Justine shared, “I honestly thought I would help one or two people per week, it is more like 10-20 families per week. And now, that I stop and think about it, over the years, I have probably helped thousands of families.” When I asked Justine how it grew to this point, she simply replied, “it just ran with me and I did whatever I could to keep up”.
For ten years, Justine has mostly funded this support from her own savings. She purchased food and groceries, delivered home cooked meals, organised travel and accommodation, provided gift cards to purchase clothing and essential supplies and was also always picking or dropping people up from the airport or driving them to their hospital appointments. When Justine shared her story, she was sitting outside the hospital waiting for a mum and child who she had picked up earlier from the airport to attend their appointment and take back to the airport. This simple act saving the mum over $120 in taxi fares.
In 2019, Justine was provided funding by the POP Foundation to cover some of her expenses and is very grateful for this support. She said it is sometimes the hidden costs like tolls and petrol, that just keep adding up. But I would be still doing this without the funding as I understand how overwhelming it is when faced with this situation – when your child or partner is ill and you have no idea what to do and your support network is hundreds of kilometres away.
Advocating for rural communities
Justine shared she is most proud of her advocacy work with large hospitals and Queensland Health. There is now greater awareness of the challenges faced by people coming in from rural communities for emergency health care. She also shared that more people are aware of the Patient Travel Subsidy Scheme – enabling families to be there when their loved ones are in hospital. She has also been able to get families to share their stories for the Ombudsman Review, which has seen further funding available to support rural families in this situation. Justine says she will continue to be a thorn in the side of Queensland Health – if it means that rural families are supported during this difficult time.
Justine recently secured a vehicle with disability access thanks to the support of a generous donor. She said that the difference this vehicle has made in getting people in wheelchairs in and out of the vehicle is amazing.
So, what next?
When I asked Justine what next, she at first was hesitant to put it out there, as she thought it was too big a goal – but from what I have seen – watch this space as Justine has shown what determination can do.
Justine would like to see a purpose-built accommodation facility for families from the bush located close to the hospital with on-site parking, and its own shuttle bus. She would love a communal kitchen so that people can share meals together and realise they are not alone.
One of the most beautiful things for me was Justine’s reaction when I asked her if she would be willing to share her story for Superheroes Week. She was so humbled and could not believe that her story would stand alongside amazing people like Dr Ewen Mc Phee and that Dr Michael Rice would have recommended her for this acknowledgement. She was overwhelmed that her work was being recognised. And so, it should be – Justine you are a true hero! Thank you for everything you are doing for families from rural and remote communities.