The first of two young women who were stranded in their native East Timor with life-threatening heart ailments has been successfully operated on and will fly home next week.
Flavia Lucilda Guterres, 19, had been in imminent danger from severe mitral stenosis ? narrowing of a heart artery - before an overwhelming response to the two girls' plight.
Narrowing of the valve, often a result of childhood rheumatic fever, is common in East Timor, where rheumatic fever was rife
Dr Noel Bayley, a cardiologist from Warrnambool who has helped Timorese patients for many years, had offered to pay for the girls to come to Australia.
He said the operation at Melbourne's Monash Heart Centre on Thursday had been a success.
Performed by Professor Richard Harper, it involved opening the valve with a balloon, an operation which could not be performed in East Timor. The other girl, Ursula de Carvalho Soares, 17, now has a visa and a ticket to Australia for an operation at Monash in November. Her family will travel with her.
Since the story of the girls was revealed -including that Timorese officials had refused to pay for their trip to Australia - the Timorese government has come good with funding, as have scores of private individuals.
Fiona Athersmith, a spokeswoman for St John of God Health Care, a non-profit Catholic healthcare group that operates hospitals and has an extensive outreach in East Timor, said her organisation had been ''besieged'' by members of the public offering help.
St John of God Health Care has decided to set up a trust fund to help people, particularly in East Timor, who need to be brought to Australia for medical treatment.
Glyn Palmer, the chief executive of St John of God Hospital in Warrnambool, said there had been a "flood'' of cheques, which as of Thursday totalled $7000.
Dr Dan Murphy, of the Bairo Pite clinic in Dili, examined the girls when they came in and realised their condition was serious. He said there had been a big response in East Timor once the problem had been publicised.
The Timorese Ministry of Health had "come through'' with an offer of help, some individuals had done likewise and the Australian contingent of the International Stabilisation Force in East Timor had also contributed.
Dr Murphy was overjoyed with the response and would have Ms Soares, who suffers the same condition as Ms Guterres, treated straight away but he had to fit in with scheduling.
Dr Bayley said two young women from East Timor had had the same heart valve procedure last year and another two, including Ms Soares, were in line for the operation this year.
''There are a lot of problems here with rheumatic heart disease from rheumatic fever,'' he said. ''It is a brand new society here and they are trying to do everything right. But they do not get everything right the first time.
''We get people coming in here with advanced problems many times and we find that proper treatment is beyond our resources. There is a young man receiving radiation treatment in Darwin right now who got there because ConocoPhillips, the oil company, flew him there in one of their planes.''