Posted on 18 September, 2013

Bruce Theatre

The team is still in Tonga, and to be honest I am missing it a little.

I’m back at work in Sydney, and the baton was handed over to a different surgical team led by Dr Bruce French. They arrived on Saturday night and were operating the next day with more rheumatic heart valve surgery. They’ve been busy also it seems from what I have been reading on the OHI blog!

The paediatric team (which I was a part of) completed 18 operations in both adult and paediatric patients. We’ve had a few cancelled patients, which has been disappointing, but we’ve also had a few extra unexpected patients. One such patient, heard on the radio that we were in town and fronted up to the hospital for review! He was subsequently operated on for an obstructed ventricular outflow tract the next day! The operations conducted in the first week included redo sternotomies, ventricular and atrial septal defects, double valve replacements and heart valve repairs.

All of the patients from Week 1 have gone home now. There are so many stories to tell about these patients. One such was a 24 year old woman who has been short of breath for the last 5 years and whose exercise tolerance has been limited to less than 50 metres. Just going to the bathroom was a struggle. After her heart valve surgery, she has been walking up and down the corridors with renewed energy and breathing that has never been so good for many years. It’s hard to imagine how debilitating heart valve disease can be in such a young person. I’ve been told by the nursing staff that with her renewed exercise capacity, she has even gone AWOL off the ward! Something she would never have been able to do before without a struggle.

The Tongan patients have been different to those back home. Their pain tolerance seems to be higher, they’ve been motivated to get up and walk, and they tend to recover a lot quicker. The children have been amazing, up playing so soon after their operations. The physios tell me that in general, the patients have been keen to cooperate and mobilise, and do their breathing exercises. The Tongans don’t seem to have the same excuses to avoid physio that we have back at home!

We’ve been greeted with exceptional Tongan hospitality by our hosts and we’ve been well fed with a constant stream of food from the local community and restaurants. We’ve been thanked copiously by the patients, their families and by members of the Tongan community who we have met, many of whom have not had any direct connection to the patients or the hospital but who are grateful that we have visited their country to help their people. I’ve worked with a great team of people in theatres, ICU and the ward – all too many to mention but all working with a common goal and with an attitude that can only come from a group of volunteers wanting to make a difference in this part of the world. It’s an atmosphere like no other I’ve experienced in my “normal day job” back at home. If only there was some way to capture the universal enthusiasm, work ethic and teamwork that I’ve experienced here and bring it back home!

Well that’s it from me. I’ve only been able to give you a small snapshot of my many experiences here. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to go on more trips in the future and tell you all about it. Good luck to the team that remains in Tonga for the final week of operating. I hope all goes well, that all the patients recover speedily and without incident, and that you all have a safe trip home. I’m sure it will all go well. Till next we meet again…………….

Ping Theatre 1

Tags:  Tonga,