Life-saving heart surgery has radically altered 15-year-old Alia Borges’ future, and she wants to say thanks.
The East Timorese teen, who had critical rheumatic heart disease, was able to undergo an operation after a crowdfunding campaign raised more than $30,000 – with about a third of the funds coming from the south-west community.
Warrnambool cardiologist Dr Noel Bayley, co-founder of medical charity East Timor Hearts Fund, said the community’s response was humbling.
“I’ve always known my home town has a big heart, but this has demonstrated just how big,” he said. “It has been especially touching to have so many of my patients and their families share their good health and good fortune by contributing to transform Alia’s life and allow her to pursue her ambition of studying medicine.”
Dr Bayley said the four hour double heart valve repair surgery had been a great success, and that Alia’s life expectancy had been greatly improved.
“Both of the valves look really good – she’s symptomatically, dramatically improved,” he said. “She’s gone from being quite an ill young girl to being completely healthy again.”
Dr Bayley said the work of the fund needed to continue.
“There are lots of other young people – young women and young guys – who have similar problems who need the same sort of treatment if they’re not going to die prematurely,” he said.
“I’m really, really pleased that Alia has done so well, but I’ll be back in Timor in a month and we’ll be doing it all again.”
The specialist said rheumatic heart disease was a very common condition in East Timor.
“It’s a disease of developing countries so you just don’t see it in western countries,” he said. “In Australia, the only place you really see it is in remote Aboriginal communities.”
Alia’s mother, Octavia Borges, thanked everyone involved for helping to save her daughter’s life. “The world needs more people like you,” she said.
Alia returned home last week. “I am looking forward to going back to school and hopefully achieving my dream of becoming a doctor,” she said.