Theresa O’Doherty first visited the Solomon Islands in 2013 on what she thought would be a one-off trip, but has since returned four times and plans to continue her twice-yearly visits.
The Brisbane Private Hospital endoscopy nurse and her GP husband, Mark Fletcher, initially declined the invitation to travel to Marovo Lagoon – a remote part of the Solomon Islands that is home to around 30,000 people.
With three children and a full-time workload it seemed too much, but they eventually agreed to go.
“Of course, we immediately fell in love with the place and the people and have returned on every mission since, even taking our 13-year-old daughter on a life-changing trip,” Theresa said.
The missions are self-funded by the volunteers and coordinated by the Marovo Medical Foundation, which was founded by American doctor Suzanne Miller Daly and Alan Daly.
The aim of the missions is to expand the limited healthcare options available to the Marovo Lagoon community, with a focus on developing basic healthcare services at the Seghe Hospital – a facility that until 2008, had no power or running water.
“There are no doctors or surgical nurses in Marovo Lagoon and the medical supplies are very limited so we do the best we can with the resources we have,” Theresa said.
“We try to maintain high medical standards and use protocols from home, but some doctors still opt to operate barefoot.”
Theresa’s experience as a theatre nurse has enabled her to provide training for the Seghe health staff to ensure that a high level of care is provided by local nurses between tours.
“I am sure that the Solomon Island healthcare providers thought they would only learn from us, but we have also learnt so much from them,” she said.
“We have learnt to be patient and versatile, to work outside our comfort zone with whatever equipment you have, and to do any job that needs to be done.
“The local nursing staff work long, hard hours in the hospital but they are forever happy and smiling. You just can’t help but follow suit.”
Theresa said the missions were deeply satisfying and it was an honour to be welcomed into the hearts and homes of the people of Marovo.
“People praise us for going, but really we are the lucky ones,” she said.
“As a GP, my husband really enjoys the medical side of it. There are diseases and conditions you don’t see in Australia which makes it really interesting and challenging.
“He says it took him 30 years of sitting in a plum, air-conditioned suburban medical clinic before he discovered the real satisfaction of sharing a wooden bench with a medical colleague in a church hall or a park.”
Each medical mission sees about 1,000 people treated over 10 days, including approximately 50-60 operations ranging from large procedures such as thyroidectomies, to small hernia repairs and lump removals.
The Marovo medical missions are held twice a year around May and November and are attended by a team of about 25 volunteer doctors, dentists, nurses, pharmacists and non-medical personnel.
The team treat a wide range of acute ailments as well as provide invaluable ongoing care to chronic disease patients including diabetes and hypertension.
The tours give approximately 90 per cent of the population of the Marovo access to doctor care every six months.