Aus Surgeons Perform Life-Saving Surgery On East Timor Boy

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Collaboration between Aus ngo and Aus health services

By the National Reporting Team's Sam Clark and Norman Hermant

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, January 3, 2016) – An Australian charity with the support of health experts have performed life-saving heart surgery on a sick East Timorese boy in Melbourne.

Until last week, 11-year-old East Timorese boy Jeca Pereira had not ventured outside of the Timorese capital of Dili.

So it was hardly surprising that a life-saving journey to Melbourne last week was at times an overwhelming one.

A case of rheumatic fever as a young child damaged the valves in Jeca's heart, leaving him breathless, dangerously underweight and unable to attend his school classes.

Doctors said that without treatment Jeca's condition would continue to deteriorate and that he could be dead within six months.

Rheumatic fever is rare in Australia, although some Indigenous communities experience higher than average rates.

But in impoverished East Timor the disease is all too common. The country's under-resourced medical system meant that Jeca could not be treated at home and needed to look overseas for the life-saving but relatively simple operation.

Jeca, his mother Marquita and a translator were flown to Melbourne for the operation by the Australian charity East Timor Hearts Fund.

The procedure - a mitral balloon valvotomy - was performed at no charge by MonashHeart's emeritus director of cardiology, Professor Richard Harper.

The fund's chairwoman Ingrid Svendsen said the support of hospitals and medical services around the country was critical to the work of the East Timor Hearts Fund.

"It's not cheap to have a heart procedure performed or to have open heart surgery as some of our patients do," she said.

"Without the support of the hospitals here in Australia there is no way we could do the work we do and save the lives of young children like Jeca."

The procedure performed at MonashHeart involved the insertion of a small balloon into one of Jeca's narrowed heart valves by Professor Harper and his operating team of 15 specialists. With the aid of an internal ultrasound, the balloon was repeatedly inflated and deflated to slowly stretch the narrow valve and allow more blood to flow.

Professor Harper said the hour-long procedure was a success.

"I think the valve area will be between two to three times bigger than it was, and that means it will be much easier for him to breathe," he said.

"When you can do something to make a difference to their life so obviously, it does make it very rewarding."

Twenty-four hours after the procedure Jeca was on his feet again and his appetite had returned.

After a few more days of recuperation and a visit to Melbourne Zoo, he will return to Dili and hopefully to his school to continue studying.

He will need to if he is to realise his new dream of one day becoming a doctor.


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