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Island News

Saving lives

June 07
12:00 2008

Written By : JONATHAN BRYCE . Over the last few weeks, the Colonial War Memorial Hospital had been privileged to accommodate two teams of heart surgeons and other cardiac specialists. Two Australian medical teams paid for their own expenses to come to Fiji in order to perform a various number of complicated and much needed heart operations on patients who could not afford to have them done overseas. The teams which were made up of several doctors, nurses and specialists from many different hospitals around the Australian continent were brought together and coordinated by the Sydney Adventist Hospital.
After several weeks of hard work and saving lives, the team completed their duties and returned home but left their mark on an ever-grateful people of Fiji.
The Sydney Adventist Hospital started the programme to travel to Fiji and a number of other countries in order to conduct the difficult duties of cardiac surgery around twenty-one years ago.
Since then the teams have made annual trips to Fiji for the last seventeen years.
These medical squads also contributed their services to nations like Tonga, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda in Africa and several others.
All the members of the team are volunteers who generously gave up their personal holiday leave time and paid $1500AUS dollars from their own personal accounts in order to come to Fiji and save lives.
They operate on people who suffer from heart failure and/or are in need of cardiac operation.
Head surgeons for one of the cardiac teams, Dr Robert Costa said the free operations were something the doctors wanted to give back to the less advantaged countries in the Pacific.
“We all feel very privileged in Australia with all our resources and facilities and we feel the need to return something toward the Asia-Pacific region,” he said.
During the visit, Dr Costa’s team had operated on a total of twenty-eight patients.
The teams were invited to Fiji by the Ministry of Health and by the CWM hospital which coordinated things locally.
There were organised plans for blood donations which were extremely helpful to the surgeries while the CWM hospital prepared each of the medical case selections.
According to Dr Costa, many of the local hospitals around Fiji participated.
When the teams arrived, they were only based in Suva; however, their services were not limited to just the capital.
The local hospitals outside Suva organised patients who desperately needed cardiac operations and had them sent to Suva.
One of the teams was a pediatric team that specialised in childrens’ operations because of their small hearts.
The other team specialised in operating on adults, since adults’ hearts and bodies were fully matured.
Today, both teams are back in Australia.
Businesses like the Tanoa Plaza and the Westpac bank offered accommodation. Westpac was generous enough to offer an empty house where some of the other physicians stayed.
Air Pacific was also a major sponsor and brought the team over with little or no difficulties in their travel.
The teams brought over three and a half kilos of equipment from Australia. This was not charged by the national airline.
Funding for the teams’ programme also came from the Australian and New Zealand government, AusAID and the Pacific Island Project.
Dr Costa said the political and economic situation did not affect their decision to come to Fiji. Dr Costa spoke about some of the harsh realities of heart surgery and the fact that a doctor sometimes fail to save a life.
“Being a cardiac surgeon, it’s a very demanding specialty. One of the sad things about it is that we have to accept that sometimes we will lose patients, sometimes people will die,” he said.
Dr Costa spent five years training before gaining a basic medical degree and went on to have another six years of training as a hospital officer before taking yet another six years to learn cardiac surgery.
Like many of his fellow surgeons, he trained at the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons which he recommended to anyone from either Fiji or Australia who are interested in becoming a heart surgeon.
There were thirty-five people in his team and Dr Costa stressed that the entire process was a team effort and that things could not have been done without his staff.
“There are other specialists of course, doctors, nurses, technical staff, but it’s not just the surgeon. I can’t do the work without the other members of the team,” Dr Costa said.
He said the team would love to return next year if the Ministry of Health invited them for 2009.
Dr Costa warned the public about the usual cases he dealt with while in the country. “Many of the cases were due to rheumatic fever which is largely preventable today through simple personal and dental hygiene. People need to be aware of that especially with children. If they can prevent it can be easier for everyone,” said Dr Costa.
Although they have left the country, their contribution would always be felt with the lives of those they saved.

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June 2008
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