Posted on 19 November, 2014

Hi I am Darren Wolfers and I am fortunate to be OHI’s newest project coordinator, in PNG and East Africa. As soon as I leave Australia I am known to all as Daz. I am a cardiac anesthetist by training and have been involved with OHI for 15 years now. Most of my trips have been to Papua New Guinea, but I have also been to Rwanda, Solomon Islands and next week Tanzania. By a beautiful piece of serendipity I was born in Port Morseby General Hospital, the place we operate in PNG every year.


OHI has become a very, if not the most, important part of my life. I am one of several long-term volunteers whose professional careers has been made possible by the experience gained through OHI. Far more importantly many of my closest friends have been gained through OHI. My house in Maroubra has jokingly become known as a half way house for OHI volunteers passing through Sydney.

To me there are several things that make volunteering with OHI so special. The first is the quality of the people who volunteer with us. I am constantly humbled by the professionalism, good humour, and work ethic of our volunteers. Essentially, we are asking every one of them to pay a lot of their own money, to go and spend their annual leave working with strangers in a developing country to help others. This is an extraordinary sacrifice.


The second aspect I find so appealing are the medical and nursing staff we get to work with in those countries. Each of these people come from extraordinarily poor backgrounds and have lived through often difficult life circumstances. And yet have managed to become highly competent leaders in their fields of health. Their dedication and passion to bettering themselves and their own society leaves all of us in the west to shame. I learn from these colleagues constantly and harness their enthusiasm to maintain my passion for my work. Each of them are true heroes.


The third aspect that keeps me motivated are of course our patients and their families. These are people who would otherwise have no chance in life. Many of them come from rural areas and have often never been beyond their local districts let alone the capital cities in which we operate. And yet they arrive and place their entire trust in a group of crazy white people they have probably never heard of before. They allow us to take their most precious children and kin and literally cut them open and stop their hearts. This is a trust like few others seen in our societies.


Despite the pain and discomfort we cause they still show extraordinary gratitude. We all hope for good outcomes, and this happens in the vast vast vast majority of cases. But even when outcomes are not perfect I am still incredibly moved by the gratitude of these families. I was heavily involved in the care of baby Francisco (see recent movie) in Rwanda last year. After he succumbed to malaria post op his carer came to me and asked me to thank the team for all our efforts. She wanted us to know that she knew that there was nothing more we could do and it was God’s will. This moved me beyond belief.

godwinEach of these trips creates a feast of emotions in each of us. We are a long way from home and miss our own families and friends but are comforted through this by our OHI “family” around us. Apart from the volunteers, locals and patients which have kept me going on this trip, there has been a personal highlight. We have been joined this week by Doctor Godwin Godfrey who is a trained cardiac surgeon whom we will be working with closely in Mwanza, Tanzania, from next week. The photo to the left, will not mean much to the lay person but I will educate you.

By convention the lead cardiac surgeon always operates from the right. This photo shows Dr Godfrey performing a cardiac operation as lead surgeon on only his second day working with OHI. This shows the trust that he and the team have for each other and bodes very well for the Tanzania project in the future. OHI, we treat, we teach, we empower.

It is truly an honour to be a part of this grand adventure. Thank you so much to our gracious hosts, our champion volunteers and all the support crew at home.

Tags:  East Africa,