'I’m at high risk': Wheelchair bound doctor’s virus plea

"PLEASE, don't play Russian roulette with our lives."

That's the message from Gold Coast University Hospital (GCUH) quadriplegic doctor Dinesh Palipana, wheelchair-bound spinal research backer Perry Cross and other Gold Coasters with spinal cord injuries.

If infected with COVID-19, they face serious risk of death from respiratory complications and have made an urgent call to Gold Coasters to do the right thing to protect them - to stay at home and not spread the virus by hanging out in groups.

"Because of my spinal cord injury, my lung function is very poor," Dr Palipana said. "I would be at higher risk of dying from coronavirus than other people.

Doctor Dinesh Palipana.
Doctor Dinesh Palipana.

"And if I get infected, I can't play my part in the fight against this virus."

The co-founder of national lobby group Doctors With A Disability warned the risks of death from the virus were also very high for people with cystic fibrosis and neuro-muscular conditions such as motor neurone disease.

Dr Pailpana said he was disturbed by photos in the Gold Coast Bulletin of people flouting social isolation laws by hanging out in groups on beaches, at Springbrook and in parks.

"These people are playing Russian roulette with the lives of people like myself with spinal cord injuries," he warned.

"I am appealing to them to please stop. Their casual attitude will cause serious damage and more loss of lives."

Dr Palipana, who was left paralysed after a car crash in 2010, is the only quadriplegic doctor in Queensland. Until last weekend, he was working in the emergency department at GCUH.


Doctor Dinesh Palipana.
Doctor Dinesh Palipana.



"I wanted to stay there, but a decision was made for me to move to the COVID-19 phone clinic and to work with the medical executive team to help them with planning for the pandemic," he said.

Dr Palipana is aware that working at the hospital is risky for him, but insists this risk is low because of the strict infection control measures.

"I am not afraid, but I have put strict measures in place for those who care for me," he said. "My fiancé Rachael Antonie is a nurse in the emergency department, so we are in this together."

The doctor said he had been having discussions with other people with spinal cord injuries, who were also worried about the cavalier attitude of Gold Coasters toward social distancing rules.


Perry Cross. Picture: Jerad Williams
Perry Cross. Picture: Jerad Williams

He said many had decided to self-isolate early and among them is Perry Cross.

"Perry is ventilator-dependant, his lung function is not great, so the consequences of COVID-19 could be potentially fatal," Dr Palipana warned.

Mr Perry said he had been in isolation for the past month - two weeks of those in total lockdown - and he called on locals to do the right thing to protect people like him.

"They shouldn't be out and about, they should be self-isolating and I am asking them to take all necessary precautions against this virus to save lives," he said.

"I am fine and my condition is stable, but I am obviously doing whatever I can to prevent me from getting this virus."

Mr Perry said for the past two weeks, he had been in lockdown with two carers.

"No one leaves or comes in here," he said. "The carers work on two-week rotations."

Originally published as 'I'm at high risk': Wheelchair bound doctor's virus plea