Posted on 8 September, 2017

Today the OHI team were again reconnected to their ‘why’. For me not having been on a Tongan trip before, I had heard the stories of a young boy who was seen in 2015 on the OHI teams last visit to Tonga. The story was of this young boy who was so close to death the team was faced with the unimaginable decision of whether to operate or not.

The young boy was ‘Atunaisa who at 15 years old was a very sick boy. His health was deteriorating so rapidly it was uncertain that he would make it through the week. Compounded by a Neurological disorder called Moebius Syndrome; a rare birth defect caused by the absence or underdevelopment of the sixth and seventh cranial nerves, which controls eye movements and facial expression, he was also living with a heart defect that left him unable to do the activities that most 15-year-old boys want to do, playing footy and hang out with friends. Breathing for ‘Atunaisa was hard, standing for him was a challenge and the possibility of playing with his friends was a dream. After much deliberation, the medical team decided to give this boy one last chance and they went ahead with the operation.


For ‘Atunaisa’s story from 2015 read the blog post by Megan Kraa here:

Two years on, the team had heard that their star boy was alive and well never thinking that they would see him again. However today ‘Atunaisa now a strapping 17-year-old young man arrived at the ICU to meet once again the team that gave him the gift of life. No longer the frail sickly boy, his healthy appetite and new lease on life was evident. Upon meeting the team that cared for him two years ago, Melissa, Helen, Laura, and Calvin, there were plenty of tears shed, hugs exchanged and photos taken. The team could not believe that the young man standing in front of them was the boy who was too close to death. Instead, the decision to operate has now saved this young man’s life and he now dreams of a future as a nurse. Through an interpreter he shared “I want to be a nurse. To help those that really need help. That would be nice.”


He recalls those days following surgery as difficult but just two months after he felt “no pain.” ‘Atunaisa urges his community to be strong and face their fears of surgery and just turn up. He shared that his faith helped him through the surgery and if others believe in a higher power they will experience the same fortune he has.

When asked how he feels seeing his OHI and medical team again he simply said, “very happy and very thankful.” Watching the OHI team and ICU staff it was obvious if each were asked the same thing, they would also answer that seeing their star boy made them also feel happy and thankful.

The team looks forward to ‘Atunaisa meeting the surgeon that performed the life-saving surgery, Dr Ian Nicholson in the following week. Until then ‘Atunaisa has reminded the team of their purpose; to save lives and make difference. For ‘Atunaisa he now has a bright future and even though he may not be able to show expression, his eyes said everything, this is a young man who is deeply grateful and as he said, “very happy”.


Tags:  Tonga,