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by Theresa Redula and Eden Debebe

The story of a British Columbian man stranded in the Philippines during the COVID-19 pandemic is going viral on social media after he fell seriously ill while vacationing on Boracay island.

According to a GoFundMe page run by family and friends, Kevin Lench was on his annual solo trip to the Philippines when the COVID-19 lockdown happened in March 2020. A few months into his forced quarantine on the island, Lench began to feel stomach pains, prompting him to go to the hospital where he was later diagnosed with cirrhosis, a late-stage liver disease.

Close friend Matthew Gionet had no clue anything was wrong until a few weeks ago when he stumbled upon a Facebook post from a Boracay radio station showing Lench laying in a hospital bed.

“There were some concerned citizens and friends that were reaching out to people that knew Kevin through his Facebook page, reaching out to everyone that knew him, letting them know how dire Kevin’s situation is; that he needed help, money, ” Gionet said.

 

 

After reaching out to Lench’s son for more information, Gionet learned Lench’s family had been struggling to help him for months. Realizing the Boracay hospital wouldn’t be able to provide the specialized treatment he needed, Lench’s family began pushing to have him moved to a better hospital in Manila.

“He needs specialized treatment, and the care he’s getting right now is just not there,” Gionet said.

“It’s just a basic clinic. He’s very sick. Very thin, frail. He’s weak, cannot walk. So our hope now is get him to better hospital, better care, but it costs money.”

In a statement to OMNI News, Global Affairs Canada said it was aware of Lench’s case, and that consular services were being provided to the family, but according to Gionet, the Canadian embassy has offered no financial aid.

With an emergency MedEvac to Canada costing anywhere from $30,000-$70,000 and Lench’s hospital stay already costing over $10,000, Gionet said family and friends felt helpless taking on the mounting hospital bills by themselves.

“[Global Affairs Canada] told us that unless it’s a political situation, he’s been kidnapped or something, there’s no financial aid for health; so they basically said that you’re on your own unless you have proper health insurance,” Gionet said.

“As a Canadian, I assumed there would be help. So it’s sad to hear that there’s nothing they can do. Pretty heartbreaking actually.”

But Lench hasn’t had to go through this alone. While family and friends did their best to help from the other side of the world, Gionet said locals in the area became a surprisingly helpful and generous support system.

“There’s been lot of help from people in the Philippines,” Gionet said.

“They’re very kind, very helpful going to visit him. Trying to make things happen using connections they have.”

Joven Antolin is one of those helpful locals. Antolin is a Canadian citizen who has worked in the Philippines as a missionary for 12 years. After reading about Lench’s situation on social media, Antolin said he felt inclined to help.

“This is what I do,” Antolin said.

“I’m there to help people, especially in the local community, but much more when a fellow Canadian is in trouble. I know he doesn’t family here. So right away, I want to do something.”

 

 

Antolin connected with friends who worked at the hospital to get updates on Lench’s condition, regularly sending over wet wipes, adult diapers and other health essentials necessary for his recovery. Even with all the help from community members in the area, Antolin agrees there is only so much they can do for Lench in the Phillipines.

“He doesn’t have the necessary finances for [better hospital care] because he didn’t have extended medical  (insurance) when he traveled so now they’re trying to raise funds through GoFundMe,” Antolin said.

“They need to have that money going or otherwise he will have a hard time. His chances of getting home are very slim without the help of outside community, outside Boracay. We need to call upon people of Canada to make that difference.”

Over $8000 has been raised via GoFundMe page so far, but Gionet says they’re still a long way from their $75,000 goal. Despite that, he said family and friends remain hopeful Lench’s situation will turn around soon.

“I feel like things are finally starting to happen,” Gionet said.

“He’s being moved to a big hospital which is a big step. We’ll remain hopeful that he gets the care he needs.”