Our patient 'angel'
Our volunteer patient support coordinator Ana Saldanha is inspired by the patients we help.
Adaptability a big asset
Ana Saldanha has shown a remarkable capacity to adapt to any situation she has encountered since she started volunteering for the East Timor Hearts Fund in 2011.
Officially, Ana is patient support coordinator but this title belies the skills and personal strengths she applies to help cardiac patients throughout their treatment journey.
Unofficially, Ana may at times be a diplomat, den mother, cultural and political consultant, expert translator and interpreter, logistical tactician, patient carer and confidante, and 'team captain' of 15 volunteer patient supporters.
As patient support coordinator, she must be ready to step in if volunteers are unavailable due to their unexpected personal commitments. "I have to be both flexible and reliable," she says. "Otherwise things can go in the wrong direction."
She oversees the individual needs of patients, which range from a warm welcome from volunteers at Melbourne Airport, to Timorese home cooking, bedside visits in hospital, and homestays and recreational activities afterwards.
Gaining patients' trust requires a high level of empathy and, having immigrated to Australia in 1988, Ana knows how intimidating it can feel to cope with a strange language and culture. "Patients talk to me as their family. To me also, they are not just numbers or patients. I look at them as my own family."
These commitments are deftly juggled around her 'real' full-time job with the Australian Defence Force’s School of Languages. She also has a Timorese catering business, Sabores de Timor, and enjoys sharing spare time with her family
Ana has accompanied ETHF's medical teams to Timor-Leste to translate, interpret and facilitate at the cardiac assessment clinics in Dili and outlying districts. Once patients have been selected as cardiac treatment candidates, Ana briefs them about what to expect. This includes interpreting complex concepts in Tetum that may not have direct translations for technical medical terms.
She also translates cultural, political and social issues for both the medical teams and the board. In remote districts, for example, many people rely on fortune-tellers for healthcare advice. The parents' decision to have their critically ill child receive ETHF's treatment in Australia can spark strong opposition within their family – another hurdle to overcome, in addition to the gruelling travel to Dili. This helps explain why some patients can seem ambivalent about taking up a life-saving opportunity.
Ana's reward is the joy of helping young patients regain their health and their hopes of building tomorrow's Timor-Leste. "They can't wait to go back to school and achieve their dreams. They want to become architects, engineers, doctors, teachers, scientists. I tell them that with their determination, they will get better every day and be able to achieve that."
"I am really honoured to be part of such a wonderful organisation."