WHEN Wagga woman Heidi Felke fell down a set of stairs three years ago, it resulted in what seemed like a lifetime of pain.
It shot out from her spine and the only relief she had was in the comfort of lying down.
“It was no way to live,” she said. “I had to quit my job and move back to Wagga because it was that painful. I didn’t even have a proper diagnosis on what was actually wrong with me.”
A move discouraged by doctors, but taken out of desperation, Ms Felke took to the web to self-diagnose.
The 32-year-old found she had a spinal condition known as tarlov cysts.
The illness affects several vertebrae, which fill with a fluid, damaging nerves and blood cells.
Ms Felke took a “massive risk” and a “massive leap of faith” to turn to medical tourism as a means to take control of her condition.
“I gave up on Australia,” she said.
“When I went to the doctor here it seemed like there was a bigger risk.
“They said there could be damage and I never got a proper diagnosis.”
Ms Felke forked out nearly $70,000 and eventually “stopped counting” the cost of travelling to Cyprus to undergo the treatment.
“I had people asking me ‘are you sure this is legit?’, she said.
“It does put lots of doubt in your mind.
“But I did lots of research and I was confident it was what I needed.”
Ms Felke is one of a growing number of Australians who are choosing to travel overseas for medical treatment.
The most popular treatments include plastic surgery and dental work in countries such as Thailand, India, South Korea, Turkey and Malaysia.
The Australian Trade Commission says Australia as a medical tourist destination represents less than one per cent of the global industry.
“It wasn’t as scary as I thought (travelling overseas for medical treatment),” Ms Felke said.
"The facilities were first-class and the people were great as well.
“I had an American doctor who had quite a lot of experience.”
Ms Felke did not receive any medicare benefits for the treatment because it was overseas and had to draw on her superannuation.
“I want more people to be aware of this illness so hopefully we can get a doctor here that might be able to treat it,” she said.
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