EAST Timorese teenager Ursula de Carvalho Soares can look forward to fulfilling her dreams, thanks to Warrnambool cardiologist Noel Bayley who identified her fatal heart condition.
She is due to return home soon after surgery last week at Monash Medical Centre by doctors including Professor Richard Harper, who pioneered the procedure where a balloon was inserted in a catheter to split open Ursula's heart valve.
Dr Bayley, who has been visiting East Timor on voluntary medical work for about 10 years with the Australiasian College of Surgeons, met Ursula in his Dili clinic in July.
A severe narrowing of the mitral valve, which controls blood flow between the two chambers of the heart, had caused fluid to build up in Ursula's lungs, making it difficult for her to breathe.
It was probably caused by childhood rheumatic fever which is still a common problem in East Timor.
Ursula wants to return to school, which she left at age 11 because she was no longer able to walk there. Her dream is to study medicine and help other people.
Dr Bayley returned from another visit to East Timor about three weeks ago and is trying to arrange transport and surgery for another patient, Maria Veigas, 17, who has a damaged aortic valve that will cause her heart to fail unless it is replaced.
When Ursula's plight was publicised in September he was flooded with donations totalling $30,000 from his own patients, the general community and the corporate world including Toll Holdings and Virgin Blue, which had offered to transport patients. Even with travel covered the costs of an artificial valve and drugs in Maria's case, for example, could be as high as $20,000.
''People sent anything from a cheque for $10,000, to one of my pensioner patients sending me an envelope with a card and $50 in it. It was very touching stuff," Dr Bayley said.
''These young people have the potential to be East Timor's best and brightest and now thanks to the amazing generosity of Australian donors, they have a second chance at life.''
Ursula's mother, Domingas da Casta Soares, who accompanied her daughter to Australia, said she was ''very, very grateful''.
''My daughter was not able to go to school, she was not even able to play with her friends, so I am very happy to have this happen,'' Mrs Soares said through a translator.
Another teenager, Flavia Lucilda Guterres, 19, who Dr Bayley saw in Timor last month was ''just transformed'' by a similar operation, after struggling to climb on to an examination table when he first saw her in July.
Donations can be made to the St John of God East Timor Fund, PO Box 316, Warrnambool 3280. - with THE AGE