By Jennifer O’Connell
It was just after lunchtime on an ordinary Wednesday afternoon in September 2009 when Alexandra Trotsenko was attacked.
She was alone in her Dublin apartment, and heard a knock on the door.
Opening it, she came face to face with a man standing in the sunlit hallway. He was wearing a balaclava, holding two huge knives to his chest, and asking about a woman called Joan.
“It looked to me like something unreal, something from a costume party. I thought it was a joke.”
She tried to slam the door closed, but he pushed her away. “Compared to his size, I’m like a kitten, so I can’t really resist,” she said.
What happened to Alexandra Trotsenko next is the stuff of horror movies.
The barbaric attack by James Kenny, who was jailed this month for 16 years, left her mutilated in a manner that almost defies description. “I can’t believe I survived after that,” she said.
There was so much blood in her face that she was unable to see for hours afterwards. She has permanent scarring on her face and the right side of her back and body, including a scar on her neck that is 11cm deep. She has lost the use of her right hand. She only has one full-length middle finger left; all the other fingers on that hand are stubs.
Two weeks ago, the Russian artist told RTE’s Liveline about the constant pain she has suffered since the attack by Kenny, who had previously served four years after viciously attacking two people during a break-in.
An operation to fit custom-made replacement prosthetic fingers are Alexandra Trotsenko’s only slight hope of returning to her career as an artist.
Such a procedure would cost “about €10,000”, she has been told. Unfortunately, she has no medical insurance or a medical card, and she is of the understanding that she is not entitled to have one fitted on the public health system.
Members of Ireland’s artistic community were so moved by her account that they got together to organise an auction to pay for her medical expenses, so she can have the procedure.
Meanwhile, on the same day that Alexandra told her story, with courage and a remarkable absence of self-pity, several newspapers carried a story about a man who had received free cosmetic surgery to repair a scar on his lip.
Like Alexandra, the man in his 30s.
Like Alexandra, he was at the zenith of his career when he was attacked.
Unlike Alexandra, his career was one which had done nothing to enrich the lives of others.
Click on the link below to read on
He is a convicted criminal who is serving a life sentence in Portlaoise prison for murder. He had been known to the police since his teens, and is regarded as the leader of one of the Republic’s most violent drugs gangs.
Unlike Alexandra, he was entitled, without question, to all his treatment for free, paid for by the taxpayer.
He was taken from his cell, and brought to Dublin in the company of a prison office and an army escort, where had several consultations and eventually surgery last spring.
According to the reports, surgery can be performed and paid for by the State, “if facial scarring is causing low self esteem. It can also be carried out if there are problems of tightness around the scarring.”
In the wake of the outcry over the reports, prison officers insisted it was “normal practice” to refer inmates with wounds to the face or neck to a plastic surgeon. The Prison Service said inmates were entitled to “the same standard of healthcare as members of the public who held a medical card.”
The HSE will cover surgical prosthetic procedures for medical card holders on the recommendation of their doctors.
However, Alexandra doesn’t have a medical card. Nor does she have private health insurance.
Now, she believes her last hope of being able to pay for the prosthesis that will give her some prospect of a return to normal life is the fundraising drive launched by her fellow artists and Liveline.
Normally, it’s a meaningless rhetorical practice to juxtapose two opposing realities in order to make a point about the unfairness of society.
When you ask, for example, why Anglo bondholders should be repaid €70 billion when funding for special needs assistants in schools has been withdrawn, you’re ignoring the unfortunate fact that less than half of the current budget deficit of €22.2 billion is due to the bank bailouts.
Of course, it seems unthinkable that we can find the money for one but not the other, but the reality is that our spending was out of control – and even if the banking crash had never happened, funding for special needs assistants may still have been cut.
But in this case, there is no false dichotomy.
The public health service, which is funded by taxpayers, covered the cost of the treatment of a scar on the lip of a convicted criminal.
The same health service has so far not agreed to pay for prosthetic surgery for a talented artist, who was left horribly disfigured and unable to work.
However, there may be a glimmer of hope for Alexandra in a statement issued last week by the HSE, in the aftermath of the Liveline programme.
The statement said public patients were entitled to treatment “up to and including an orthotic device, which are available in a number of public hospitals”.
“Decisions about treatment are based on a clinical assessment and the decision to recommend such a treatment is made by a patient’s own consultant medical team,” it continued.
I looked on the website of the Health Service Executive last week to see if I could find its mission statement. I couldn’t, but presumably if there was a mission statement, it would say something about compassion and equity of care.
But there’s no compassion or equity of care in a system that appears to value the ‘self-esteem’ of a convicted murderer over the right of the blameless victim of a sadistic attack to have prosthetic surgery on her hand.
Even if there’s the slightest hope the surgery will improve life for Alexandra, we owe it to her – and to ourselves – to try.
Viewing of ART FOR ALEXANDRA is taking place on Sunday 27 November from 9am – 12 midday. Auction commences at 1pm in Adam’s Auctioneers Valuers in Blackrock, Co Dublin. www.rte.ie/radio1/liveline and www.adamsblackrock.com
This column first appeared in The Sunday Business Post on November 13, 2011