East Timor Hearts Fund is Australia's only medical NGO dedicated to providing life-saving heart surgery in Australia for young people from Timor-Leste (East Timor), as well as heart-health research, prevention and education projects.
Our patients often need relatively simple procedures to correct conditions that are the legacy of childhood rheumatic fever, a disease largely eradicated in the west. While Timor-Leste's health system is improving all the time, a lack of specialist medical facilities means overseas treatment is the only option.
While providing surgery for the most critical cases, we are working with our partners to tackle the root causes of poor heart health in Timor-Leste, through research and advocacy and prevention and education projects.
The generosity of the Australian community toward this cause reflects the special affection that Australians have always had for Timor-Leste.
With continued support we aim to bring up to 20 young patients a year to Australia for heart procedures. These young people have the potential to be Timor-Leste's best and brightest. With the continued goodwill of Australian supporters they can have a second chance at life.
The work of East Timor Hearts Fund is made possible by the assistance of Australian hospitals including MonashHeart, Monash Health, Barwon Health, Royal Melbourne Hospital, Eastern Heart Clinic and Prince of Wales Private Hospital, and the generosity of supporters including our foundation partner Toll Remote Logistics.
Cardiologist Dr Noel Bayley has travelled to East Timor around 20 times over the last decade, working with the Bairo Pite community clinic in Dili to assess and identify young patients with heart conditions who could benefit from surgery in Australia.
The work is as difficult as it is rewarding. For every patient that can be helped, there are a multitude who cannot in a poor nation with limited health facilities. Even where candidates for surgery are identified, finding the funds to bring patients to Australia, and a hospital that is able to treat them, can be hugely challenging.
In many cases, Dr Bayley has simply paid for the airfares of patients and their carers from his own pocket because the alternative was knowing that they would not receive life-saving care in time.
In September 2010 Dr Bayley and the head physician at Dili's Bairo Pite Clinic, Dr Dan Murphy, went public in frustration. Dr Bayley told the Australian media about his unsuccessful attempts to find government funding for Flavia Lucilda Guterres, 19, and Ursula de Carvalho Soares, 17, to come to Australia for heart valve procedures which he knew would save their lives.
He could hardly have anticipated the response.
Within days of the story appearing in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, dozens of people tracked him down with offers of cash. These included elderly patients giving $50 from their pension cheques, ADF troops serving in Timor-Leste passing the hat around and well-off supporters making large individual contributions.
The response was so overwhelming – with $13,000 pouring in during the first week alone – that St John of God Hospital, in Dr Bayley’s home town of Warrnambool, set up a special fund to receive the donations.
Six weeks later, the fund had $30,000 in donations and a foundation corporate sponsor, Toll Remote Logistics. East Timor Hearts Fund was born to give young Timorese heart patients a second chance at life.