Posted on 17 December, 2013

Well I have been home for a week after our successful trip to Rwanda and then the short investigative visit to Mwanza, Tanzania on the way home. This week has been crazy, trying hard to fit back into the routine of day-to-day life at home as well as dealing with all the mixed emotions that always come after these trips, even after 28 years.

It is so good to be home although one misses the camaraderie of team mates, having spent so many hours putting personal needs and desires aside to achieve a common goal. It is always hard to balance against the sometimes mundane day-to-day life in Australia with its first world issues.

This week, however, has helped me review the year, put some perspective to it, as well as set some priorities for 2014. Maybe the melancholy period has its benefits?


The Rwanda visit seemed like it was going to have challenges from the very beginning, filling key positions on the team, even receiving a firm commitment for the team to go, then once we had committed to the project, finalising the last few necessary positions, went right down to the wire.

Once the setup team departed other challenges were thrown at us that threatened to delay the start of surgery and reduce the number of patients that we planned for. These challenges are not insurmountable, the difficulty is when they all seem to happen at the same time! Flight cancelations, team members refused entry on flights due to Rwandan visa issues, and sadly family illness prevented other team members from flying.


28 years of doing this has not made it any easier. What the experience has taught me is one needs to be adaptable and quickly swing into Plans B, C, D and perhaps even eventually Z. Thankfully most team members step up to the plate to make it all happen.

Despite all the challenges, surgery commenced as planned and we managed to operate on 19 little people during the allocated time. The veterans (or “repeat offenders” as we affectionately refer to them as) led the way, assisting the newbies doing their first shifts.

It’s always exciting to see them relax and confidence grow in the first few days. A successful trip is the result of a team effort, and like a bicycle wheel where every spoke plays an integral part in allowing the wheel to run true, every team member does their bit for the wheel (team) to run efficiently and effectively. It never ceases to amaze me, our teams are formed by individuals from different hospitals/institutions from around Australia and other parts of the world. This year the team was drawn from five hospitals in Sydney, Melbourne, Alice Springs, Perth, London and Christchurch, everyone fitting in to make a balanced team.

We had set ourselves some challenging goals in Rwanda for 2013:

  • Rural Screening Program for wider patient reach including training GP’s and nurses in rural clinics. While some work was done, it has taken longer than expected, and so we anticipte more development in 2014.
  • Utilise more Rwandans to increase the emphasis on education and skills transfer. This worked well quite well especially in the areas of:
    • ICU – Two local nurses per shirt, who performed extremely well.
    • Anaesthetics – One anaesthetist was very involved including leading 8 operations (with support).
    • Perfusion – One perfusionist worked side-by-side with our team growing his confidence during our visit. He will require further exposure in future years.

I would like to specifically recognise and thank the team leaders (Department Heads). Their contribution is not just around each trip, but all year round, assisting with putting their team together, acquiring and maintaining their equipment and consumables and liaising with their counterparts in the countries we visit. Most of this work goes unnoticed, but without it we could not do what we do. It’s an honour to work with you all, and count each of you as a friend and a colleague.


Earlier this year we were visited in Sydney by a young Tanzanian surgeon Dr Godwin Sharau. He had just completed his training as a paediatric cardiac surgeon in Israel, and was looking for support to develop a program in Mwana, Tanzania. It was decided to do an investigative visit on the way home from Rwanda (both countries have Lake Victoria as one of their borders, so we were somewhat “in the area”!!). Wow, what an amazing opportunity!


Mwanza, the city that services the lakes region of Tanzania has a population of 45 million people, has over 400 children on the waiting list for cardiac surgery. There is no screening program in place, so the number of undiagnosed cardiac issues will dwarf the 400 identified!

I don’t want to pre-empt anything, but watch this space. I was excited at the commitment and infrastructure in place already to establish a project to meet this incredible need.

In signing off for 2014, I just want to say thank you to all of OHI donors and supporters. I’d also especially like to thank sometimes long suffering families and friends that allow our volunteers to go away on these trips. We understand how hard that is. Also to our supporters who so generously give funds, suppliers on products, and everyone who generously gives of time and expertise to make Open Heart International function.

There are so many of you that don’t ever travel with the team, but year after year you continue to do what you to ensure our work goes on. Thank you and I wish you a wonderful and safe festive season.

Let’s all work together in 2014 to make a difference!


Tags:  East Africa,