WHEN a young East Timorese mother is reunited with her young son and daughter this weekend for Christmas she can thank Warrnambool’s Noel Bayley for the chance to have a long, healthy life.
When Dr Bayley met her in Dili in August during one of his many trips to the tiny developing nation, she was struggling with a life-threatening heart condition caused by childhood rheumatic fever.
Now 22-year-old Immaculada da Conceicao Gusmao can look forward to a brighter future.
She was flown to the Royal Melbourne Hospital for heart valve replacement surgery earlier this month and met Dr Bayley again this week as she prepared for the return trip to her family.
“Immaculada’s condition was dire. Without medical assistance, which is unavailable in East Timor, her prospects were grim,” Dr Bayley said.
“In East Timor there are many, many young people with the hearts of 80 year olds but this particularly affects young women, who often die because their hearts cannot withstand the strain of pregnancy and labour.
“Immaculada’s condition meant it was likely that she would not live to see her children grow up, which would have been a terrible tragedy.”
Dr Bayley said cardiothoracic surgeon Marco Larobina and the Royal Melbourne Hospital had given her a second chance at life. Mr Larobina said the operation went well and he expected Immaculada would have a healthy and full life.
There are probably hundreds of people in East Timor who owe their better health to Dr Bayley’s medical skills and generosity. He has been visiting for about 20 years and helped establish the East Timor Hearts Fund two years ago, which has brought eight patients to Australia for treatment.
“I wanted to do Third World work and started in a small clinic in the hills above Dili with GP work,” he said. “Then I worked from the Barrio Pite Clinic in Dili, where patients are pre-screened and referred to me.
“My wife Yve also goes over with me and she works on improving water quality — there’s a link between rheumatic fever and poor hygiene.”
Dr Bayley, a consulting physician specialist in heart and lung diseases with Warrnambool Base and St John of God hospitals, also teaches Deakin University medical students.
He takes some to East Timor to experience aid work.
“My hope is their exposure to this will encourage them to do more Third World work and be the next generation that steps up to the challenge,” he said.
The program has received enthusiastic support from the corporate and private sector.
Dr Bayley estimates 80 per cent of private donations come from the Warrnambool community.
“I find that quite touching,” he said.