An Australian charity worker hospitalised with a broken leg and a serious skin infection on a Filipino island needs to fly home for treatment on September 25 – three days before the government has promised to lift caps on international arrivals.
Gina De Ruyter travelled to the Philippines in November 2019 to open an animal rescue shelter on Malapascua, a remote island just two and a half kilometres long off the coast of Cebu in the Central Visayas.
With more than 40 animals in her care when the coronavirus pandemic was declared on March 11, the 24-year-old from Canberra felt compelled to remain in her adopted island home where there are no cars, only motorbikes.
Life continued with relative normality on Malapascua until July 14, when she slipped into a pothole while ferrying sick dogs to the vet and shattered both shin bones in her right leg – before developing an infection that doctors fear will spread to the bone.
Ms De Ruyter told Daily Mail Australia she has ‘never felt so alone’ and is petrified that the deteriorating infection will leave her at risk of losing her leg if she cannot travel home for proper treatment.
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Canberra woman Gina De Ruyter, 24, travelled to the Philippines in November 2019 to open an animal rescue shelter on Malapascua Island and is now stranded there due to the pandemic
‘I was exhausted, my leg snapped and I just went down,’ she said, speaking from her hospital bed in Bogo City on the northeastern coast of Cebu.
Her accident couldn’t have happened in a more obscure location – there are no doctors let alone hospitals on Malapascua, which is only accessible by ferry or plane.
Ms De Ruyter was stretchered to a boat which sailed seven kilometres to Cebu mainland, where an ambulance took her to the nearest hospital.
But with public hospitals overflowing with hundreds of COVID-19 patients, she was forced to pay $4,000 for a private surgeon who operated on her leg at Bogo Medellin Medical Centre.
Things went from bad to worse when she developed a bacterial infection caused by her body’s rejection of a stainless steel rod and bolts screwed into her shin, which doctors say is at risk of reaching her bones.
Things went from bad to worse after surgery when Ms De Ruyter (left) developed a bacterial infection in her leg (right), which doctors now fear is spreading from her skin into her bones
Unable to walk, she has been confined to a wheelchair for almost two months and has little to occupy her time as she waits for news on returning home.
Ms De Ruyter has been told the bolts must be removed as soon as possible, but the Bogo Medellin Medical Centre has suspended surgeries due to COVID and her route to Canberra has been blocked by Australia’s cap on international arrivals.
Under the current quota, just 4,000 Australians can return home each week, leaving more than 20,000 residents including Ms De Ruyter stuck overseas waiting for a flight Down Under.
Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack on Wednesday announced he will lift the weekly cap from 4,000 to 6,000 on Monday, September 28 – three days after the flight Ms De Ruyter is desperate to leave on.
Her only option is to pay for another operation at a costly private hospital in Cebu City, almost three hours’ drive away, an expense Ms De Ruyter said she simply cannot afford.
Ms De Ruyter (pictured on Cebu mainland before the pandemic) says she has ‘never felt so alone’ and wishes to recover surrounded by her friends and family
She withdrew money from her superannuation fund to pay for her first $4,000 round of surgery and her second hospital stint has set her back a further $1,600, as doctors pump her with intravenous antibiotics to stave off the worsening infection.
Ms De Ruyter’s travel insurance has expired and providers have refused to renew her policy due to the pandemic.
‘Every foreigner has left the island and returned to their home countries. I had to watch them all go and I wasn’t able to,’ she said.
‘Now I’m paying people to care for me because I can’t move from bed.’
A glimmer of hope has been the help she’s received from the Australian Embassy in Manila, where diplomatic staff have been scrambling to secure her a seat on a flight home as a medical priority.
Delays with paperwork cost her a ticket on August 31, leaving Ms De Ruyter relying on a flight slated to leave Cebu for Manila then on to Sydney on September 25.
Malapascua Island at a glance
Just off the north coast of Cebu, a province of the Philippines consisting of a main island and 167 surrounding islets, is Malapascua, an idyllic island in the Visayan Sea renowned for world-class diving and thresher sharks which swim there all year round.
Only accessible by boat or plane, Malapascua is just two and a half kilometres long. There are no cars on the island, only motorbikes, one primary school and no hospitals.
Roughly 4,000 people live on the island, most of whom live off tourism, fishing, boat building or coconuts.
On July 26, Malapascua municipal council announced two confirmed cases of COVID-19 on the island in a Facebook post.
‘The flight is booked out but if the cap is raised before then, I could go,’ she said.
‘Otherwise I’m stuck here in hospital racking up thousands in bills just to keep the infection from worsening, but not solving the problem with my leg. I’m losing my mind.’
The animal lover faces months of recovery before she can walk again and has only one wish: to heal surrounded by her family and friends.
‘I imagine it will be much easier with my loved ones around to help me,’ she said.
‘Here I can’t do anything more than sit in bed and wait for a flight.’