Tao Pham, a Vietnamese seminarian studying in Victoria, was admitted to St Vincent’s hospital in March 2011 for 40 days for a tetanus infection following an accident.
He was due to be ordained a deacon in the Catholic Church only 10 days after his admission to hospital. Sadly he missed his ordination.
Following discharge, Tao collapsed and was airlifted from Sale to St Vincent’s where he remained unconscious and on life support for a further 50 days.
When he regained consciousness, he was paralysed, unable to walk and it was believed he would require high-level care for the rest of his life.
Tao had no income and was ineligible for financial assistance. His study visa was revoked and he faced deportation as he waited for his visa status to be resolved by the Migration Review Tribunal.
Tao spent 688 consecutive days in the care of the Emergency Department, Intensive Care Unit, General Medicine, Orthopaedics, Rehabilitation, Outpatient Clinics, Pastoral Services and Social Work teams.
Lisa McDonald, Director of St Vincent’s Mission, sanctioned a pathway through what seemed the impossible due to Tao’s many complex ethical, medical, financial and visa related issues under the auspice of Mission.
Together with the many St Vincent’s teams, Lisa arranged pro bono legal support with a top immigration lawyer, sought recompense from his original visa sponsor to fund much needed equipment including an electric wheelchair and called on the wider Melbourne Catholic community for support and post discharge accommodation for Tao.
Lisa and the Pastoral team listened deeply to Tao’s anguish.
“When I awoke, I was absolutely hopeless. Days and nights I had been hearing a voice ‘Tao, you should die as soon as possible because you are really a disabled person now. If you continue to be alive you will become a heavy burden for your family and the Church….you cannot serve the people of God anymore’. I was very worried about my bleak future. My idea to become a priest seemed to come to an end. I was 48 years old, had worked with my bishop for 8 years, acquired a great deal of pastoral experience and there I was: isolated, inactive and separated from my people by 7000 km.”
However, drawing on his deep faith Tao continued to hope for a future where he would walk again. He never gave up on his dream of becoming a priest, even though it had been deemed impossible.
Excellent holistic health care, personal perseverance and deep devotional prayer led to an unexpected physical and functional progress in Tao.
He met his rehabilitation goals and was discharged in mid-2013.
The Mission team’s efforts secured temporary accommodation for Tao, generously provided by the Redemptorist community in Kew and during this time, Tao volunteered as a Communion minister at St George’s Hospital.
He now lives in a parish house in Greensborough and works in the parish.
Even after his discharge and expediental recovery Tao remained a part of the St Vincent’s community.
So when the Director of Mission had an opportunity to fund an additional Pastoral Practitioner, Tao was an obvious choice.
Tao is now a part of St Vincent’s team and is assigned to support the rehabilitation ward for five hours a week and follows up on Vietnamese patients.