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Meet our COVID heroes

The economic and emotional impacts of COVID-19 have disrupted our lives in extraordinary ways, leaving us to navigate a new norm with an uncertainty of what tomorrow may bring. In times like these, the simplest acts of kindness have given us hope and encouragement to keep doing the best we can.

Meet some of our personal COVID heroes: we hope their stories brighten your day as they have brightened ours.

(UPDATE 8/3/2020) A big heart making a big difference

“What can I do to help?” “Please let me know how I can help; I know there is so much disruption and I want to help”. COVID-19 heroes have come from all walks of life, in this case, it’s Geoff Cook, Global Head External and Patient Advocacy at Novartis Oncology.

When Geoff offered his unwavering help in March of this year, The Max Foundation team was trying to solve a multitude of COVID-related challenges affecting some of our patients. Some of the situations were so dire, we didn’t think there was anything Geoff or anyone else could do.

The pandemic struck fast around the globe and caught people by surprise. Borders closed, flights cancelled, and people were stranded. In some cases, people living with cancer were stuck far from home and unable to reach their medication: a woman living with GIST in Nepal was stuck in California; two patients from India were stuck in Singapore and Amsterdam; and a British patient in Grenada.

We were also aware that a young patient from Cambodia, whose lifeline was an investigational drug she had been accessing through Singapore, was no longer able to travel for her next medical appointment. Our team had exhausted all possible solutions and nothing was working. After 14 years of surviving cancer, it seemed COVID-19 was going to defeat her—not because she contracted the virus—because she could no longer access her medication.

But Geoff was determined and he immediately mobilized others in Novartis, one by one providing individual solutions as needed. We received daily updates and great engagement from his colleagues, and with his support a Novartis team even miraculously figured out a successful pathway for our young friend in Cambodia to access her lifesaving medication.

COVID heroes come from every walk of life. At this most challenging time in our world, it is up to each of us to show up. Geoff showed up and today our team and the many cancer patients he’s supported are happy to call him a COVID hero.

Friends don’t let friends go without treatment

In India, Azees volunteered to drive 360 km to pick up his and three other patients’ lifesaving medication. Since many of our patients live in remote cities and villages far from medical centers and pharmacies, public transportation shutdowns have made it difficult for them to access their monthly supply of treatment.

One of the first things our team and partner physicians solved for when nationwide shutdowns began is transferring paper prescriptions to digital e-prescriptions.

When Stuti arrived at the pharmacy an hour away from her home, she realized she didn’t have the right prescription papers. Luckily, a nearby bank kindly allowed her to use their printer and she was able to access her treatment on time.

When Stuti returned home, she shared instructions to fellow patients via WhatsApp which prescription papers to print so the same thing wouldn’t happen to them.

A lifesaving sacrifice

Samuel is a farmer, father of three, and CML patient who takes a 12-hour bus ride from his home in Luzon island to Manila every four months to see his physician. When nationwide community quarantine measures took place, Samuel’s physician asked the Philippines National Police to help deliver treatment to patients.

This is a photograph of Police Master Sergeant Orlan Salonga meeting Samuel at a checkpoint 100 meters from Samuel’s home. “His facial expression was priceless when I handed the drug to him,” said Salonga. “It was a small sacrifice and I was happy to help,” he adds.

Like Samuel, Salonga is also a family man. He’s been traveling all over the country to deliver personal protective equipment to officers and frontline workers throughout COVID-19 closures. He says he longs to embrace his wife and children once it’s safe, and kindly shared a photo of him and his daughter with our team.

We look forward to the day Salonga and his family reunite!

Health care heroes

When the government issued strict national quarantined measures, physicians at Philippines General Hospital (PGH) Adult Hematology ran full speed ahead prescribing treatment and some even personally delivering treatment to patients’ homes near Manila.

Dr. Josephine Anne Lucero, Chief Hematology Fellow and Dr. Erika Belinda Chen, Fellow in Training prepare their patients’ treatment deliveries.

“It was very uplifting to find ways to still care for our patients in the time of enhanced quarantine,” said Dr. Josephine Anne Lucero, PGH Adult Hematology Chief Hematology Fellow. “We are sad that we can’t see our patients in the clinic like before and we have begun to feel helpless. Finding ways for the medicines to reach them helped them but also helped us!”

As for their patients, we asked them to share a photo with their treatment once it arrived at their homes. These are their happy faces.

In Lima, Peru, when the local hospital closed to cancer patients our partner Pharmaceutical Chemist Fernando Escalante quickly worked with our team to dispense three months of treatment to patients so they would have enough to last them through the shutdowns.

In already fragile health care systems, we are beyond impressed by our medical partners that continue to go above and beyond with their commitment to patients’ wellbeing.

A big heart making a big difference

“What can I do to help?” “Please let me know how I can help; I know there is so much disruption and I want to help”. COVID-19 heroes have come from all walks of life, in this case, it’s Geoff Cook, Global Head External and Patient Advocacy at Novartis Oncology.

When Geoff offered his unwavering help in March of this year, The Max Foundation team was trying to solve a multitude of COVID-related challenges affecting some of our patients. Some of the situations were so dire, we didn’t think there was anything Geoff or anyone else could do.

The pandemic struck fast around the globe and caught people by surprise. Borders closed, flights cancelled, and people were stranded. In some cases, people living with cancer were stuck far from home and unable to reach their medication: a woman living with GIST in Nepal was stuck in California; two patients from India were stuck in Singapore and Amsterdam; and a British patient in Grenada.

We were also aware that a young patient from Cambodia, whose lifeline was an investigational drug she had been accessing through Singapore, was no longer able to travel for her next medical appointment. Our team had exhausted all possible solutions and nothing was working. After 14 years of surviving cancer, it seemed COVID-19 was going to defeat her—not because she contracted the virus—because she could no longer access her medication.

But Geoff was determined and he immediately mobilized others in Novartis, one by one providing individual solutions as needed. We received daily updates and great engagement from his colleagues, and with his support a Novartis team even miraculously figured out a successful pathway for our young friend in Cambodia to access her lifesaving medication.

COVID heroes come from every walk of life. At this most challenging time in our world, it is up to each of us to show up. Geoff showed up and today our team and the many cancer patients he’s supported are happy to call him a COVID hero.

The sun will shine again

Even in the darkest of days, art and music can help us cope.

Tony Leo is a musician and CML patient who’s been on treatment for over a decade. You may remember his story as our inspiration for our 2017 Max Global Experience Climb Mount Kinabalu.

We were excited when Tony shared this cover of the song “The Sun Will Shine Again,” produced by Juwita Suwito in collaboration with many talented musicians across Malaysia, including Tony himself. The group dedicated this “singing telegram to all who are going through dark times.” Turn the volume up and enjoy this heartwarming collaboration!

In Malaysia, we asked children part of The Max Schooling Project to share drawings of their current experience. The Max Schooling Project is a joint initiative helping families through financial and non-financial assistance as incentives for parents to keep their children in school while one parent is undergoing cancer treatment.

Drawing by Siti, 16-year-old part of The Max Schooling Project

“People cry not because they are weak. They have been strong for too long. I dedicated this quote to myself. I lost my mom when I was 11 years old and after that, I stayed with my grandmother. I didn’t spend much time with my mother but she is always in my heart. I am now studying at the vocational college and I wanted to complete my diploma for her.”

Drawing by Tibadurghai, 17-year-old part of The Max Schooling Project

“Save the earth. The good thing behind the Covid-19 is the earth is recovering from all kinds of pollutions. I hope we can maintain a hygienic lifestyle after the pandemic is over and we can live a better life soon.”

We hope these stories have brought a glimmer of hope and encouragement to your day. To learn how you can get involved in helping patients and community through COVID-19, visit our donate page.


Naomi Thalenberg

Naomi Thalenberg is a content manager at The Max Foundation. Naomi has a background in journalism, digital communications, and multimedia storytelling. In her spare time, she’s an avid hiker in the Pacific Northwest, where she currently resides.



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