Above and beyond

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Epworth doctors reveal their passion for helping worthy causes around the globe

Like many Australians, Epworth staff, nurses and doctors are passionate about giving back to community both here and abroad. Staff members across the hospital’s eight sites participate in numerous community working bees, fundraisers, food parcel deliveries and informal mentoring every year. In addition, there is a workplace-giving list that was voted by staff for regular salary deductions. Recipients of these salary deductions include such worthy organisations as Médecins Sans Frontières, Salvation Army and Lost Dogs Home. And then there are the actions of individual doctors that really go above and beyond the call of duty.

Professor Andrew Heggie

Maxillo-facial surgeon Professor Andrew Heggie has operated on 17-year-old Bradley Bola from Papua New Guinea three times in the young man’s life. Mr Bola was born with Crouzon’s Syndrome – a disease where some bones of the skull and face fuse and therefore do not grow normally during foetal development.

Bradley leaves the hospital with his family

Bradley leaves the hospital with his family

He was first brought to Melbourne by Rotary Oceania Medical Aid for Children (ROMAC) for treatment in 1998 and then again in 2007. During this second visit, Prof Heggie performed major craniofacial reconstruction at Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne to enlarge and realign Mr Bola’s skull and facial bones.

As he grew to adulthood, Mr Bola suffered from headaches due to high pressure inside his relatively small skull. He also had problems closing his left eye, making it difficult to study. Despite these obstacles, he completed his Year 10 exams at Mount Diamond School in Port Moresby, just before saying goodbye to his father and siblings and heading to Melbourne for major surgery late last year. These procedures cannot be performed in Papua New Guinea and now, with limitations to public hospital involvement in pro bono surgery for overseas cases, ROMAC indicates it is harder to find private hospitals willing to help out.

Prof Heggie has performed these surgeries pro bono for Mr Bola, as well as for other overseas patients. Epworth CEO Alan Kinkade agreed to cover the bed and theatre costs at Epworth Richmond, while Epworth staff supported Mr Bola’s mother, Nellie, enabling her to stay in his room with him on the ward.

Dr Jennifer Johns

Recently-elected president of the Australian Heart Foundation, Dr Jennifer Johns has been a cardiologist at Epworth since 1984. Her passion for improving cardiac health has led her to volunteer with the Australia Sri Lanka Medical Aid Team (AuSLMAT), which was first formed in 2004, following the Boxing Day earthquake and tsunami. AuSLMAT volunteers travel to hospitals, dispensaries and orphanages all over rural Sri Lanka, delivering medical equipment, consumables and medicines. Members provide lectures, workshops and hands-on training across a broad range of medical specialties. This past year, the team focused on the management of diabetes, hypertension and heart disease; conditions increasingly common in Sri Lanka.

Dr Johns, who volunteers in Sri Lanka annually, said the work in a third world country is both interesting and rewarding, and the support she receives from colleagues, the generous makers of surgical devices, and the Cath Lab at Epworth Richmond is invaluable. Over the past decade, AuSLMAT has provided training to medical and nursing staff at the cardiac cath lab at Karapitiya Teaching Hospital in Galle, and provided consumables, such as catheters, guidewires, balloons and stents. Significant progress has been made in the cardiac interventional program, with the team in Galle now able to take on complex cases.

Dr Samantha Hargreaves

Dr Samantha Hargreaves

Dr Samantha Hargreaves

Dr Samantha Hargreaves, a popular obstetrician and gynaecologist at Epworth Freemasons, spent several weeks in Africa last spring, training for the Great Ethiopian Run, which took place November 23. Dr Hargreaves ran 10 kilometres in high altitude conditions to raise $10,000 for the midwives and patients of the fistula clinics in Africa. Her aim was to spread the good work begun by her lifelong hero, Australian doctor Catherine Hamlin. Dr Hamlin and her late husband went to Ethiopia in 1959 to train midwifes, and went on to establish the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in 1974.

Their work and education programs save hundreds of young women every year, providing free surgery to women suffering obstetric fistula, caused by prolonged and obstructed labour. It leaves women incontinent and as a result of this many women are isolated and rejected from their communities. Poor access to health facilities leaves one in 16 women in Africa with fistula and other serious risks during pregnancy or childbirth, especially those living in rural areas.

While it’s no marathon, Dr Hargreaves said the event was quite difficult. Not only did she compete against local athletes, but the 10-kilometre challenge took place in Addis Ababa – 8,000 feet above sea level. 2014 marked the 14th year of this running event in Africa. More than 37,000 participants completed the run, including 500 elite runners, as well as hundreds who travelled from overseas.
“The funds raised will go specifically to the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, the Hamlin College of Midwives, and Desta Mender – a farm and training centre for long-term patients. So it is a really worthwhile cause for an obstetrician to support,” Dr Hargreaves said.

Dr Michael Yii

Epworth Eastern Cardiothoracic Surgeon Michael Yii has been involved with improving healthcare in developing nations such as China and Myanmar (Burma) since 2001. He also maintains a longstanding involvement with development of cardiac surgery in Yangon, Myanmar, assisting in the region since 2005. Dr Yii helped develop cardiac surgery and services in central China (Zhengzhou, Henan Province) and visited often to teach, operate and mentor. During this time, the region has progressed to being known as a key area for cardiac surgery in China, surpassed only by Beijing. In 2007, Dr Yii received the Yellow River Friendship Chinese National Day Award for contributions to improving healthcare and standards in Central China. In 2013/14, Dr Yiireceived a three million yuan grant from the provincial government and Henan Provincial People’s Hospital to perform collaborative research and teaching (Academician Level Specialist Award).

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