Volunteer Liam's logistics feats at the heart of landmark study
Clinic administrative volunteer Liam Callaghan
For administration volunteer Liam Callaghan, it was the culmination of three months of meticulous preparation: six trucks arriving safely in remote Letefoho in Ermera District, in south-western Timor-Leste, in October 2016. The convoy had crawled up bumpy mountain roads, a four-hour trip to cover 70 kilometres from Dili, to deliver its precious cargo of 25 rheumatic heart disease (RHD) study volunteers and all their essential equipment.
The group quickly set up a screening operation to gather data for the landmark research study into the prevalence of RHD among school children in Timor-Leste. East Timor Hearts Fund played a lead role in the organisation of the study, which involved a multi-disciplinary team that also visited Dili, and Bakhita village, also in Ermera district. After five marathon days, they had screened 1400 children. This provided a credible basis for the study, which will inform treatment and prevention strategies and resource allocation for battling RHD in the years ahead. (For more, see page 16]
Liam emphasises the team effort that drove the project, involving many skilled practitioners from around Australia and Timor-Leste, including five cardiologists, nurses, indispensable local 'fixer' Eddie De Pina, local translators and many others.
Liam's professional expertise in logistics helped ensure that everything ran smoothly, enabling the researchers to work efficiently. Although his key concern was meeting their minimum quota of 1000 children, ironically, the only 'hitch' was that they ran well ahead of plan, requiring some swift rescheduling.
A civil engineer, Liam joined Metro Trains as a train engineer, and is now Asset Development Manager. He leads a team of strategists who decide how best to invest in rail infrastructure. Logistics and project management are key functions of his work.
In the context of the RHD study, what did 'logistics' cover? Almost everything, it would seem: project planning, anticipation, coordination, communication, and negotiation, both in Australia and Timor-Leste. "My job was to ensure that everything would be ready for everyone when they arrived," Liam says, "That we were going to all the right places, had all the right supplies, that everyone knew their role and everyone's movements, and what the programs entailed, the trip schedules, accommodation and food, and that we were making the most of every hour."
For the school children, the screening was an exciting diversion – with the novelty of seeing their hearts beating, via the echocardiograph. For 50 whose screening revealed RHD, it led to discussion with their parents and life-saving penicillin treatment.
Liam had heard about East Timor Hearts Fund’s work through his neighbour, its honorary medical adviser, Dr Noel Bayley, who invited him to come on board. Liam has now worked supporting the volunteer medical team in Timor-Leste five times over the past three years.
Dr Bayley has been effusive about Liam's other major project: helping to tailor a purpose-built database to support their clinic’s needs on location. "The medicos simply enter the patient’s ID into an iPad and all prior examinations, procedures and plans for future treatment are at our fingertips," Dr Bayley says.
Liam's voluntary work for revealed another reality. "I get to feel part of a pretty important team that saves lives. And I get a perspective of what's going on in other areas of the world."
He says East Timor Hearts Fund is "an incredibly worthwhile organisation" to donate to. "When you're on the ground you can see how much it benefits the lives of the people there and how much it's appreciated."
Read Liam's story in our 2016 annual report here.