Posted on 12 September, 2017

With only a couple of days of clinical work ahead I have been asked to offer some thoughts about my experiences here in Tonga with Open Heart International. This is my last trip with OHI as I move off into a new chapter of my life which includes grandchildren, motorbike maintenance and sailing – and many lunches with old and new friends! Once again, I have had the privilege of working with the most wonderful people who have donated their time, money and skills to looking after the children in countries where open heart surgery is difficult and expensive to access.

I cannot express adequately just how much I have enjoyed working with people from all over Australia, New Zealand and indeed other parts of the world on these trips. It never ceases to amaze me how a group of people from quite disparate hospitals get together and provide a service with minimal fuss and enormous enthusiasm. Their professionalism is second to none and their ability to deal with the technical difficulties, the often-long hours and the need for innovation and adaptation is fabulous. Over the last twenty-six years of my involvement it has been a wonderful part of my career in paediatric anaesthesia!


The last few days since our arrival here in Tonga for the paediatric week have been busy, (vaguely) stressful and fulfilling. Some of the adult patients from the previous week have been slow to recover and we have had to modify our cases and numbers. We will still complete the cases we had programmed for the week and the results so far are fantastic. Some children, operated on only a few days ago are leaving the hospital tomorrow – children are such wonderful creatures! They don’t know that they are supposed to lie around feeling sorry for themselves and they are up and about so quickly!

A major part of these trips is the kindness and support we receive from the “locals”. The hospital staff here in Nuku’alofa are enthusiastic and so committed to providing us and their patients with the best service possible. Nothing is too much trouble! On Sunday night, we had the most amazing night with choirs and orchestras providing wonderful presentations. There is nothing more outstanding than hearing a massed choir of Polynesian people’s singing with true love in their hearts. It was another highlight for me to be presented with a plaque by the CrownPrincess of Tonga for my contribution to the OHI trips. It was also embarrassing as I am only one small part of the team effort that goes on trips like this.


Over the years there have been too many people that have helped me and contributed to the OHI charter to mention. I have made (and hope to keep) many friends whom I would otherwise not have met. Some I have worked (and played!) with for many years and some are new. I could not mention all of them, but I have to mention a few!!! This does not mean I don’t appreciate everyone who comes on these trips as the whole thing is a team effort and the success is dependent on every single person!

The “scrubbers” in the operating theatres are my longtime friends and I love them dearly – especially Jen and Maree. The anaesthetic nurses – Bec (again not a newbie) is a fantastic and hard worker and an absolute pleasure to work with and Alannah has joined us – hopefully not for the last time! Clement – my anaesthetic colleague is just so skilled and again nothing is a problem for him. The perfusionists Martin and Bruce are superb! The ICU nursing staff – who put up with a lot from us – led this year by Mel who has come on a number of trips and again who approaches the work with enthusiasm, a smile and a “can do” approach – a wonderful person! The PICU intensivists – Penny and especially Peter Prager with whom I have worked on a number of trips and who has such skills and a wonderful caring demeanour. It has been a real honour to work with people like this! It does not stop there of course – the ward staff, the biomedical engineer, the pathologist, the physiotherapist, the educational staff – all have an important role to play and the trips would not work without them. I have also been privileged to meet and work with Malcolm – cardiologist and his wife Kerrie – sonographer on many trips and whom I now count amongst my dearest friends..
I also have to mention my great friend Ian Nicholson – cardiac surgeon extraordinaire! Ian has probably done almost as many trips as I and has (hopefully!) many years ahead of him. It is an honour to have worked with him and I hope to continue to maintain our friendship despite my declining faculties.


I want to thank all the people I have worked with over many years on these trips. Julie Hulston has coordinated this trip and I thank her for her commitment and her friendship also over many years! These trips do not just “happen” and the organisers ( including Michael, Megan, Melanie, Annette and Russell and others) deserve thanks and acknowledgement for their contributions also!

I cannot possibly thank everyone and I hope that I don’t upset the people I haven’t mentioned. I have often been thanked for what I have done but the reality is that I have gained way more from the trips than what I have contributed. I will miss these trips almost more than I can bare, but I know than I have to give it up and I would rather do it while I think I have something to offer than when others think I am past it!

I wish all who continue with the projects all the best. If you get even a small fraction out of it of what I did you will have a wonderful life and meet wonderful people!

My love and thanks to all!

David Baines

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