Volunteer Inacio helps patients feel 'at home'
Patient support volunteer Inacio Carvalho
When patients land at Melbourne Airport, Inacio Carvalho is highly likely to be one of the welcoming party, ready to take them safely to their accommodation.
As a Timor-Leste born member of the volunteer patient support team, Inacio provides vulnerable patients with a soft landing and warm reassurance, as they recover from their arduous journey and prepare for imminent heart surgery.
Inacio understands what patients need, having shared many of their experiences, both through his own background and his work with East Timor Hearts Fund.
When he arrived in Australia in 1985, it was the end of a 10-year journey that started when his family fled war-torn Timor-Leste and became refugees in Indonesia. In 1977, the Red Cross helped his family move to Portugal, once again, as refugees. "In 1985 a new chapter of my life started when I arrived in Australia," he said.
He recalls the challenges of adapting to his adopted country: language, culture, environment, relationships and more. "Now, I can honestly say that Australia is one of the best countries in the world," he said. "From the moment that I meet the new patients I make sure that they feel at 'home away from their home' as I have experienced the same thing when I first arrived in Australia."
Inacio has personally helped every East Timor Hearts Fund patient treated in Victoria since 2011. He has also provided moral support via phone calls to the Sydney patients, their interpreters and their accompanying carers and family members. "In most cases, the patients just want to hear encouragement from another Timorese person, speaking the same language." Along with Tetum and English, Inacio speaks fluent Portuguese and basic Indonesian.
Like many of the patients he assists, Inacio has had open-heart surgery, in 2013, to repair suspected damage from rheumatic heart disease. This increased his ability to support patients, he says. "The surgery gave me a second chance in life, without it I would not be here today. I am lucky to live in Australia and I could not imagine having to go through a major surgery in a foreign country.
"I have found that speaking to the patients about my experience helps to calm them down before the operation, as many of them are, understandably, very anxious."
When patients are in Australia, Inacio is on call '24-7”, covering anything from Timorese meals, to hospital visits, interpreting and, post-treatment, offering fun experiences, like shopping and sightseeing.
Inacio juggles this around his full-time job as a storeman and his role in the family Timorese food business, Sabores de Timor, working with his wife, Ana Saldanha, also a long-term East Timor Hearts Fund volunteer. Sabores de Timor is well known for providing delicious East Timorese catering, cooking classes and food event stalls, sometimes also raising funds for East Timor Hearts Fund. Family is also very important to them: Inacio and Ana have a "beautiful daughter", now 26, who also frequently volunteers assisting heart patients.
Inacio says his voluntary work is motivated by his love of helping people and his passion for East Timor Hearts Fund’s life-saving impact. He has a simple message: "Heart disease does not discriminate so please come on board and help this amazing organisation."
Read Inacio's story in our 2016 annual report here.