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PNG doctors taught how to save hearts by Aussie teams

22 August, 2012

"They have the future of surgical medicine in their hands. It’s our job to get that first generation up and running." Dr Matthew Crawford, Anaesthetist and Operation Open Heart Volunteer.

"So much has changed since I was last here 7 years ago. The local surgeons are now operating independently and nursing staff are much more confident. Clearly, the work we are doing is making a real difference." Richard Todd, Nurse and Operation Open Heart Volunteer.

"Our efforts changed the lives of those operated on, enriched the lives of their families and gave their communities hope for the future." Shaun Johnson, Nurse and Operation Open Heart Volunteer.

Medical and nursing staff in Papua New Guinea (PNG) are a step closer to being self-sufficient in heart surgery after a 6 day visit by Australian medical teams who shared their expertise to change the lives of 27 children and 8 adults in Port Moresby.

The Australians who returned this week were volunteers from hospitals around Australia – part of Sydney Adventist Hospital’s humanitarian aid program Operation Open Heart. Volunteers operated on children as young as 6 months old with potentially fatal heart failure, and with congenital (birth) defects including holes in the heart.

The Australian team worked side by side with Papua New Guinean doctors and nursing staff, helping develop and increase the local teams’ skills to equip them to continue operating after the Australian teams depart.

Australian Anaesthetist, Dr Matthew Crawford, played a critical role in training local medical staff from all over PNG who travelled to Port Moresby General Hospital for the opportunity. Dr Crawford instructed in general intensive care, cardiac care and anaesthesia.

Dr Crawford is also working with the University of Papua New Guinea to create a formal training program for the local staff.

"We are providing the training and education at a post-graduate degree level, similar to what they would receive here in Australia. There will be clinical based learning followed by a final exam," he said.

Dr Crawford has been travelling to PNG and volunteering his skills for the life-saving surgery since 1993. During this recent trip he was pleased with evidence of significant progress towards self-sustainability.

"PNG has never had leaders before. Now that the leaders are there, our training will give them the stamp of approval so that they can lead the next generation. These local medical teams will be enormously powerful in creating the future by taking over the work we have been doing. Succession planning is what it’s all about. We must have people who can lead after us," he said. Cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr Graham Nunn, has travelled to PNG since 1993 to work with and educate the local heart surgeons.

"My main goal is to get the two local surgeons operating without our help. This year I assisted the national (local) surgeons with 15 open and closed cases," he said.

The benefit of the skills sharing has already been proven with the local teams performing 14 ‘closed heart’ surgeries by themselves and expecting to complete another 7 this week.

The completion of PNG’s first purpose built cardiothoracic ward is another step forward.

"A dedicated cardiothoracic ward is a significant step forward towards more and more work being done by the locally trained team by themselves year round," said Russell Lee, Papua New Guinea Project Leader and former Sydney Adventist Hospital Nurse.

Operation Open Heart has been travelling to Papua New Guinea annually for the last 19 years and has performed 783 free life changing surgeries. Operation Open Heart is part of the Hospital’s HealthCare Outreach Program that began in 1986 when a nurse visiting Tonga was appalled that Australia’s neighbours were dying from conditions readily and easily treated here.

The 64 Australian medical, nursing and other health care professionals donated their time, skills, expertise and contributed financially towards their trip expenses to give patients in neighbouring Papua New Guinea access to the same medical care available in Australia.

"I live in Townsville, so Port Moresby is only a small hop, skip and jump from home. It is unbelievable that the conditions of health care differ so much when the two countries are so close by," said nurse Pip Earl.

The team from around Australia included 2 cardiologists, 3 surgeons, 7 anaesthetists, 4 perfusionists, 3 engineers, 39 nurses, 3 intensivists, 1 physiotherapist, 1 pathologist and 1 pharmacist.

The final "open" surgery was performed on August 11 and the last team members returned home August 14.
Operation Open Heart travelled with all necessary equipment to perform cardiac surgery to reduce the impact of their visit on existing hospital services.

Two shipments of close to 5 tonnes of important medical equipment was sent to Port Moresby, including the critical heart and lung machine (which replaces heart function during surgery), heart valves, syringes, dressings, painkillers, and other items needed pre, during and post-surgery.

Source: Sydney Adventist Hospital

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