Ask LH: How Can We Get My Sick Mother To New Zealand?

Dear Lifehacker, We moved from New Zealand to Australia way back in 1986 and since then my mother has never gone back. Three years ago she had an aortic dissection, and since then her health has been getting worse. Just recently she has been diagnosed with stage 2 lung cancer.

After recovery, fingers crossed, us kids would love to get her back to New Zealand either for a long term holiday or even to live permanently. Due to her health normal flights are not possible (due to the altitude). So are there any options where we could get her over there without it costing an arm and a leg? Thanks, Sounds Of Te Amawatu

Dear SOTA,

Your best option would probably be a cruise ship. The upfront cost can be eye-watering, but once you factor in everything you’re paying for — including food, board and entertainment — the prices are actually pretty reasonable, especially if you plump for a cheaper inside room. Basically, treat the cruise as part of your holiday and factor in the costs accordingly. You can get additional advice from our expert's guide for first-time cruisers.

That said, you'll need to check the various insurance policies of the cruise ship companies that operate between Australia and New Zealand. We've reached out to a few and will update the article when we hear back. In the meantime, do any readers have an alternative suggestions of their own? Let SOTA know in the comments section below.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    Cargo ship could be alternate?

      I don't think that would be terribly healthy for someone recovering from stage 2 lung cancer.

    My granddad is well into his eighties and had a bypass a couple of years ago. Can't get travel insurance when he goes on cruises. That said, he's been on 5-6 in the last five years and hasn't had any trouble with mobility, health or anything like that. Well worth the investment to get someone home for one last time.

    I assume the problem with flying is oxygen (i.e. decreased partial pressure in a typically 6000+ ft airline cabin).

    In which case, options include 1) asking whether any airline can provide a medical oxygen supply during the flight (not a major issue as planes carry plenty in main and portable storage) or 2) travelling with a cylinder or concentrator.

    All would require a doctor's prescription and detailed discussions with the airline to check costs/feasibility. From a practical point of view it wouldn't be that hard. But the unfamiliarity would likely be the stumbling block.

      Something to do withe the altitude they fly at and pressure or some such perhaps. Have heard that can be an issue.

      If altitude is the case could one not charter a small plane that could fly at below whatever the problem altitude is?

        Yeah it's very common. They CAN fly technically but it's ill advised for anything vascular. Could be a cautionary measure or medically proven, i'm not entirely sure.

    .. [Insert obligatory Australian joke against NZ here]

    Last edited 17/04/13 8:45 pm

    Oxygen is not the issue, it's more the potential dehydration and susceptibility to DVT. Concentrators cannot be run on board without special permission, ditto O2 cylinders as they all have to be FAA approved preflight.

    Multihop cruise is safe, however the cruise medical personnel may have reservations.

    Good luck.

      Oxygen could be an issue if oxygenation is already marginal at sea level. Most airlines run cabins at equivalent to 7500-8000 which gives (via various formulae) an arterial partial pressure of around 65mmHg (vs around 100 at sea level) in a healthy person. Most people don't notice the difference but someone with lung disease would. Just for reference, I saturate in the high 90s at sea level but fall to the mid-low 90s when flying (with normal lung function).

      Agreed flying with oxygen is a major logistical hassle ... although it's by no means unheard of. Being pedantic, for a plane taking off from Australia, CASA and ICAO regulations apply not FAA (even if on US airline).

      The other valid potential concern is the risk of expanding an occult pneumothorax in the reduced ambient pressure at altitude. But this is relative with only a 30% increase in baseline volume at 8000ft. Granted, this could be enough to cause symptoms.

      Dehydration is a issue but airline cabins are no drier than many parts of Australia in summer. Usual advice re lots of fluids would apply. And while cancer is a DVT risk, again this is relative. A one-off prophylactic dose of LMW heparin would suffice if risk is perceived to be high.

      I've nothing against the idea of going by ship per se. Except medical resources will be limited and you're a long distance/time from backup for most of the trip.

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