11yo cancer patient who flew to US for treatment refused emergency MIQ spot to return to New Zealand

A Napier father caring for his sick 11-year-old in the US says they'll swim home if that's what it takes after being declined an emergency MIQ spot.

It comes after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern received an open letter on behalf of almost 2000 Kiwis abroad calling for immediate and urgent changes to the MIQ system.

Maddox Preston was just nine when he was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour. He's had four brain surgeries and two rounds of chemo in New Zealand but the tumour keeps coming back.

"The prognosis wasn't good but hey we gotta keep fighting," his father Chad Preston says.

That fight led Maddox, now 11, and his family to fly to the US city of Houston six weeks ago so he could undergo potentially lifesaving treatment.

Now they're stuck there, unable to get a spot in managed isolation.

Their application for an emergency MIQ spot was bolstered by letters from doctors in the US and from Starship Hospital, yet it's been declined.

"We're not asking for any special treatment or anything like that, we just want to come home and continue to care for our son," Chad says.

Stories like Maddox's have prompted the open letter to Ardern. It says the border plan announced this week fails to address problems with the system right now, including that:

  • The emergency allocation system is not fit for purpose
  • The booking system itself is unfair and inaccessible
  • Supply is down while demand is at an all-time high

The letter says those issues make New Zealanders feel like second-class citizens.

"Hopefully it's going to gain some traction. The main goal of this is for the system to be improved," says Sam Drew, from activist group Grounded Kiwis, which represents New Zealanders trapped overseas who are trying to return home.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister says current demand for MIQ is unprecedented and options to improve the system are under consideration, including potentially adding extra isolation hotels.

But a solution won't arrive overnight.

"There are a lot of complex issues that need to be considered before adding MIQ facilities, including suitability of the hotels and proximity to hospital facilities and appropriate transport hubs," Ardern's spokesperson says.

The Prestons plan to put in another emergency request and have thanked other stranded New Zealanders who have been giving their support. 

"We'll swim if we have to. We'll get home one way or another," Chad says.