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Maria Meade of Quin, with her husband Tom. Maria has secured access to a breakthrough drug after a public campaign. Photo: John Kelly.

Quin woman secures cover for break-through treatment after public campaign

A QUIN woman has secured access to vital cancer treatment, after she and her husband went public about their health insurer’s initial refusal to cover the cost.

Maria Meade had surgery, earlier this year, for an aggressive form of cancer and was recommended to start a course of the break-through drug Pembrolizamub. While her insurer, Laya, refused to cover the €150,000 cost of the immunotherapy treatment, citing  guidance from the National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP), the National Centre for Pharmaeconomics (NCPE), the company has now agreed to fund the drug on a three-month trial basis. Maria will start treatment next week.

“Laya have agreed to cover the cost for three months,” Tom Meade explained. “There will then be a review and a report from Maria’s consultant oncologist, but we would be hopeful that there will be cover for ongoing treatment.”

Earlier this month, the couple contacted politicians and the media over fears of the impact that missing out on the therapy could have on Maria’s health. Maria, who is in her 40s, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of melanoma at the start of the year and underwent gruelling surgery at the height of the Covid-19 lockdown. The restrictions around the pandemic meant she had surgery to remove the melanomas, while simultaneously undergoing a skin graft procedure – both under local anaesthetic. Tom could only accompany his wife to the door of University Hospital Galway (UHG) because of the lockdown. After her procedures, Maria was cancer-free, with her oncologist recommending a course of Pembro to reduce the risk of a reoccurrence of the melanoma.

Describing themselves as very private people, the Meade’s were reluctant to attract publicity, but told The Champion they felt they had no option when Laya confirmed that Maria was not eligible for cover. After the case was raised in Dáil Éireann by Deputy Cathal Crowe, the couple went public on Clare FM and spoke to The Champion.

“We were very reluctant to speak out,” Tom said. “We were dreading the prospect of publicity really. Our way is to go about life nice and easy and do what needs to be done without being in the public eye, but everyone we spoke to from Councillor Pat Daly to Deputy Crowe and all of his staff couldn’t have given us more support. We’re so grateful too to our family, friends and community, who were marvellous and helped us in ways we could never have expected. You just don’t realise how much support is out there until you find yourself in need of it.”

Tom also expressed his gratitude to Maria’s medical team and to their health insurer.

“In fairness, after we went public, we couldn’t fault the response from Laya,” he said. “They kept us up-to-date every step of the way once we got a bit of traction on the issue.”

Speaking in Dáil Éireann, Deputy Crowe said Maria had been in fear for her life, and he asked the government to set up a working group to consider how Pembro might be made more widely available.

About Fiona McGarry

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Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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