Dying with dignity
The soon-to-open Pink Park Village, which combines a hospice for the terminally ill and underprivileged as well as convalescence services, is reliant on people's genorosity. You too can do your bit
Surrounded by rice fields despite being part of suburban Bangkok, Baan Phing Phak (Pink Park Village) in Nong Chok district is still an hour away from downtown even using the fastest route. Costing Bt300 million to build, the new village has been designed to provide a home for selected underprivileged, terminally ill women suffering from stage-4 breast cancer until they draw their last breath and all for free.
The first phase is set to open next month after a year’s delay and will house a convalescence centre where breast cancer patients from outside Bangkok receiving treatment in the capital can stay, along with a diagnostic centre plus learning and training facilities for medical staff. When finished, it will also feature a day care and cancer rehabilitation centre.
Pink Park is the brainchild of Assoc Prof Dr Kris Chatamra who has been working for over two decades with his wife Khunying Finola for a better life for breast-cancer patients living in slums through their Slum Outreach Project. Dr Kris worked as a senior clinician in the field of cancer in British teaching hospitals for 30 years and is also an internal examiner and researcher at the Royal College of Surgeons of England. After the couple returned to Bangkok, they founded the Queen Sirikit Centre for Breast Cancer Foundation in 2007 and were granted Bt2 million in funding by Her Majesty Queen Sirikit to kick-start the project. It’s located in a donated building of King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital, which is operated by the Thai Red Cross.
His experience with both the Slum Project and the centre led Dr Kris to want to do more to help poor patients. One of the cases he often talks about was the woman terminally ill with breast cancer who he saw during a visit to slum area, lying alone on a piece of cardboard with a cold foam container of fried rice next to her. Another experience that has stuck in his mind was seeing one of his patients just in front of the King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital under the Thai-Belgium Bridge. She had come to Bangkok from upcountry for a course of radiation at the centre but had nowhere to stay. For the entire five weeks, she would have radiation therapy in the morning and then spend the rest of the day strolling around department stores before returning to sleep under the bridge.
A private exit and walkway with twometrehigh bushes is designed for each room and will allow for the removal of the body without upsetting other patients./Nation photo
And so the idea of Pink Park Village was born and a fundraising drive organised through different charity events, just as he did for QSCBC.
The hospice stands on 121 rai of rice fields donated by Boonsomsuk Jaruwatana, a former patient of Dr Kris.
The first is spread over 80 rai and comprises two hospice buildings, a convalescence centre, the learning and training facility and the diagnostic centre.
The hospice and convalescence building are single-storey and connected to the other facilities and the surrounding landscape by a garden, The hospice building has eight patient rooms with a nursing station in the middle. Each room has a bathroom and a terrace. A private exit and walkway with two-metre-high bushes is designed for each room and will allow for the removal of the body without upsetting other patients.
“When I went to hospices in England, I saw how other patients became depressed when one of their number was wheeled out,” Dr Kris explains.
The reception area at one of the hospices and convalescence buildings.
Wandering around the hospice and convalescence area gives off the sense of being in a luxurious private hospital and the visitor has to remind his or herself that it is for poor breast cancer patients in the terminal stage and completely free of charge. Dr Kris admits that there have been negative comments about the high cost – Bt300 million – for a 24-bed hospice care and 32–bed convalescence centre but is quick to point out that being poor doesn’t mean not deserving the very best care in the last moments of their life.
“With that money we can do a lot of projects but the bottom line is the Pink Park Village is the kind of holistic centre I want it to be. It’s also the first of its kind in this country and I want it to serve as a model for others to see and perhaps replicate,” he says.
“The women who will be selected for the Village are poor and don’t have anyone to take care of them. I want to give them ‘dignity’, maybe for the first time and also the last time in their lives before they leave the world with the best care we can provide. My idea is to give them the same attention and care as we would give a much-loved family member,” he says.
The Pink Park Village provides comprehensive cancer care by an experienced team of doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers, pharmacists and nutritionists.
The patients will be selected by the foundation committee made up of 10 members comprising doctors, nurses, social services and people from other professional careers. The Thai Red Cross and its network hospitals around the country will submit the details of patients who fit the requirements, and the committee will make a final selection of those who meet the criteria: terminally ill, with six months to live, poor and without anyone to take care of them.
The patients who can stay at the convalescence will be selected from among those who have to come to Bangkok for further treatment of breast cancer, and have no place to stay in Bangkok. They are allowed one companion to stay with them and the centre will provide transportation to the hospital for treatment such as chemotherapy or radiation and back to the centre. Each patient is expected to stay until they complete the treatment, usually four to five weeks, and in the future, if they are not considered either physically or emotionally ready to return home, they will be referred to the rehabilitation centre. Here they will prepare to resume their lives while helping the centre in its research. Construction of the rehabilitation centre has not yet started and a further Bt200 million will be required to build and equip it.
“It is the last piece of the jigsaw that will complete the Pink Park village,” says Dr Kris.
The good doctor has achieved an incredible amount at QSCBC in a comparatively short time. It is today considered the leading centre for breast cancer diagnosis and treatment for underprivileged patients. The centre uses 3D cone-beam computed tomography equipment, which is the first in the world, and has the only breast cancer magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) dedicated for use on disadvantaged patients in Thailand. MRI scanning creates images from various angles of soft tissue parts of the body that are difficult to view using other imaging tests and has improved the speed and accuracy of diagnosis for patients in need while removing the worry of high expenses.
Breast cancer is the leading cause of death among women in Thailand, with one in 10 Thai women likely to face the challenge during her lifetime. Sadly though, more than half of patients do not have access to adequate care for a wide range of reasons that include everything from shyness to fear of medical treatment as well as the expense of treatment. Every year, more than 3,000 Thai women die of breast cancer, and more than 34,000 Thai people suffer from breast cancer, 99 per cent of them female.
One of the charity events held to support Pink Park Village is the annual Eat Drink Pink gastronomic evening organised by The Peninsula Bangkok, which this year will be held on October 1. Eat Drink Pink will enable guests to enjoy signature dishes, drinks and snacks in a delightful ambience by the river.
For the fourth year, the hotel is partnering with Bangkok’s Michelin-starred restaurants, Asia’s best restaurants, as well as rising eateries, among them L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Chim by Siam Whisdom, Bo lan, Suehring, Bunker, Lenzi, LeDu, Baan, Opus, Il Fumo, Issaya Siamese Club, Sensi, Sri Trat, Haoma, Freebird, Cocotte Farm Roast & Winery, Charcoal, Brasserie Cordonnier, La Casa Nostra, Acqua Restaurant, Blue Elephant, La Bottega di Luca, Birds Rotisserie, and Canvas.
The second Eat Drink Pink event in October 2015 featured a charitable raffle with memorable prizes, including stays at The Peninsula hotels worldwide, and raised more than Bt1.2 million for the Queen Sirikit Centre for Breast Cancer, while the third Eat Drink Pink in November 2017 raised more than Bt1 million.
Tickets for Eat Drink Pink 2018 are priced at Bt3,000 per person. All proceeds will be donated to the Queen Sirikit Centre for Breast Cancer Foundation to support Pink Park Village.
For reservation or more information, please call (02) 020 2888 or e-mail [email protected]