Our impact on the East Timor Hearts Fund
Authored by Isabel Gardner, Manager – Account Management Victoria & Tasmania
I was recently lucky to be one of five Macquarie Telecom employees to accompany CEO David Tudehope on a trip to Timor-Leste to see first hand the impact that our support for the East Timor Hearts Fund (ETHF) has for Timorese cardiac patients and the broader community.
The ETHF is an initiative driven by Dr Noel Bayley, a no nonsense Australian cardiac specialist, and his cooperative efforts with Dr Dan Murphy, a Dili based, larger than life American physician. Dr Dan sees a staggering number of East Timorese patients daily free of charge at the Bairo Pite clinic in Dili. When he encounters patients with heart problems he arranges for them to attend one of Noel’s bi-annual pro-bono clinics and Dr Noel in turn selects the most urgent cases to undergo life saving heart surgery in Melbourne – a medical specialisation that is not readily available in the developing nation. Macquarie Telecom provides the much needed financial support that complements Noel’s exceptional connections in Australia to make the trips and surgery happen.
Arriving at the clinic suddenly brings the entire worthy endeavour vividly to life for us. As we approach the clinical rooms at Bairo Pite we count over 50 Timorese patients waiting patiently for a brief consultation with Dr Dan under the shade of an outdoor patio roof or in the crowded, dimly lit and hot waiting room. Patients have often travelled for many hours with sick children or relatives, or are personally suffering symptoms they can no longer ignore.
Dr Dan explains that many Timorese don’t know the all too familiar check up process of stethoscope to chest, having never had their heart checked in their life. But Dan knows what to listen for and so Noel’s four day visit is packed with referred patients. Patients stream in and out of his tiny consult room created out of little more than a shipping container and it is outside here that we meet Evangelina, the next ETHF patient to be supported by Macquarie Telecom.
Evangelina is with her husband and four children and expresses gratitude and relief to have access to treatment for her serious heart condition, while understandably appearing a little overwhelmed by the attention. Noel explains that the double valve replacement surgery is amongst the most complex of procedures and without this Evangelina’s health will continue to deteriorate rapidly in the coming years.
Evangelina is generous enough to invite us to her home and it is here that the impact of her bad heart has on her life really becomes clear. She and her husband live in a small two room house nestled amongst those of extended family members in the Dili suburbs. Dusty kids, barking dogs and full washing lines create a backdrop for daily affairs, all of which are still manual and extremely tough when living with deteriorated heart function – Evangelina cooks by open fire and washes by hand using buckets in her outdoor kitchen.
As the gaggle of local children bond with George, Andrew and Matt over football and free pens, I realise the true, grass roots impact that ETHF work has on everyday Timorese people and feel increasingly reassured that David has chosen a worthy cause for Macquarie Telecom to support.
This reassurance is compounded ninefold as we next head to visit the home of Lucas, the most recent ETHF patient who visited Melbourne to undergo surgery in April. Lucas looks fit and strong compared to when he was in Melbourne and our team is excited to see his improved health. We all remark on the growth spurt – has he grown a full foot?! We spend a pleasant hour of Timorese hospitality engaging with his family and community, and Lucas shares his ambition to study mathematics after school. I see Ralph’s pride in this news and realise that Lucas’ experience with ETHF has not only saved his life, but has also afforded him a cultural connection with Australia and developed friendships that will positively impact his future and last a lifetime.
Australia has been a friend of Timor-Leste and played an important role in the troubled independence plight of our tiny island neighbour for many decades. Timor has featured in the Australian news throughout my life but before this trip I did not deeply understand the brutal realities of life under Indonesian rule from 1975 until their independence in 2001.
In order to better appreciate our shared history, David suggests we drive to Balibo to visit the site where five Australian journalists were caught in battle and brutally murdered by the Indonesian military in 1975. The team is enthusiastic and willingly endure the three hour coastal road which throws up a trifecta of dust, bumps and bends. As we wander the area, the sense of injustice is strong that these Australians were killed mercilessly in an act of war crime while doing their jobs. As I ponder the five Aussie lives lost, I suddenly feel far more conscious of the impact that the loss of some 200,000 lives during Indonesian occupation must continue to have on the East Timorese every day.
Our trip of two short but full days in Timor was an extremely edifying experience. Meeting Doctors Noel and Dan who give so much for so little, seeing patients whose lives we have changed for the better thanks to ETHF and Macquarie Telecom in their family environment and learning more about East Timorese culture and history was an unexpected opportunity for which I am very grateful.
To learn more about the great work carried out by The East Timor Hearts Fund, or to donate to this very worthy cause, please visit www.easttimorheartsfund.org.au