IVF treatment in outback Queensland requires couple to travel 12 hours for appointments

The vast cattle station on which Emma and Chris Thiedeke live is the ideal playground for children.

With red soil and endless sky, their property near Blackall in Queensland’s hinterland stretches to the horizon.

But the couple’s journey to becoming parents was fraught with difficulties.

“It means everything to me,” Ms Thiedeke (41) said.

“I just want to be a mom and I just want to see him be a dad.”

After suffering a miscarriage, the couple received news that a medical condition could affect their chances of conceiving.

So they turned to IVF.

But two years and $50,000 later, the Thiedekes are still childless.

“It’s a pretty expensive process to go down this road,” Mr Thiedeke said.

“Everyone would have heard stories of people basically investing the farm to have children, it’s not for the faint of heart.”

The tyranny of distance

Great distances and a lack of support can make the emotional journey of IVF even more challenging for people living in the bush.

Many spend thousands on accommodation and travel, and take time off work, so they can access treatment in the city.

Woman in blue shirt and man in green shirt staring into the distance
Emma and Chris Thiedeke spent more than $50,000 to access treatment.(ABC Western Qld: Victoria Pengilley)

The nearest fertility clinic is often a day’s drive away.

A lack of local specialists means it takes up to 12 months to get an appointment with a “flying” gynecologist in western Queensland.

“You see a specialist or make an appointment and they say, ‘you’re way out in the bush, so we’ll do it on Skype or Zoom’,” Mr Thiedeke said.

He said his property did not have cell service and the internet was not strong enough to support a video call.

“It doesn’t help to live in the middle of nowhere. Everything is easier on the coast.

“For Emma, ​​it’s an hour’s drive to town just to talk to someone. There’s no going for a walk with friends or anything like that.”

In a last-ditch effort to become parents, the Thiedekes sold their home in Rockhampton and accessed their pension to buy donor eggs.

Aerial shot of car driving down the road
The Thiedekes travel a grueling 12 hours for their last IVF cycle.(ABC Western Qld: Craig Fitzsimmons)

This week they pack their bags and travel 12 hours away to Brisbane to have it fertilized and transferred.

The couple is not ready to give up on their dream of becoming parents, but the trip is their last hope.

“It’s probably almost make or break,” Mr Thiedeke said.

“If you don’t have much success this time, then there’s no other option. We’re throwing everything at it.”

1,600 km round trip for a scan

At least one in six Australians will experience infertility during their lifetime.

Experts say the number of patients accessing IVF from the bush is also increasing.

Monash IVF fertility specialist Ashish Das said about 50 per cent of his patients traveled from remote areas to his Townsville clinic.

Man in checkered shirt staring at camera
Ashish Das says patients travel great distances to access fertility services.(ABC News: Lucas Hill)

“Fertility is not a one-step treatment,” Dr Das said.

“It requires multiple visits and multiple examinations along the entire journey before you get to the treatment stage.”

Telehealth options are available, but a lack of regional clinics means 1,600km round trips to undergo a scan are common.

“A large part of fertility treatment does require [patients] to come into the cities and we try to reduce it as much as possible,” said Dr Das.

He said the stress and pressure of traveling long distances and being away from support networks for weeks at a time was too much for some.

Woman holding a scan
Rebecca Fleming says the isolation of IVF has taken a toll.(ABC Western Qld: Victoria Pengilley)

“Patients do drop out of IVF for a whole bunch of reasons; distance, the logistics of doing things is a cause,” he said.

“Those who may have dropped out are those who may have had an unsuccessful cycle and found the journey difficult for them.”

Costs add up

Although a small portion of IVF is covered by Medicare, the financial costs of treatment can add up.

Victoria and New South Wales offer subsidies to those undergoing fertility treatment.

But in Queensland, the cost of treatment and travel leaves many out of pocket.

Longreach mother-of-two Rebecca Fleming said she spent almost $50,000 and was able to get about $17,000 back from Medicare.

Woman holding a baby
Rebecca Fleming underwent IVF before becoming pregnant.(ABC Western Qld: Victoria Pengilley)

The 38-year-old underwent two cycles of IVF eight hours away in Rockhampton before becoming pregnant with her first child.

“You’ve got fuel, you’ve got accommodation because you can’t just drive eight hours away, see a doctor, drive eight hours home,” Ms Fleming said.

“You should at least spend the night.

“Then there’s time off at work.”

Ms Fleming said while the isolation and stigma of IVF took its toll, holding her baby was the ultimate end.

“There are so many things that can go wrong with IVF … I don’t think I felt good about it all until I held my baby,” she said.

“It’s actually two years to the day we had a transplant and to think two years ago it was a bunch of cells that is now a toddler running around destroying things.”

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