2018 news

Congratulations to Dr Noel: almost 20 years of mending hearts and building hope

A special message from our CEO

Congratulations to Dr Noel: almost 20 years of mending hearts and building hope

I have lived and worked in some of the poorest communities on the planet. From Asia to East and Southern Africa. I used to think poverty was something in far off lands. I was wrong. Nothing can prepare you for the short flight from Darwin to Dili, capital of Timor-Leste (East Timor) where some of the poorest communities in the world reside. Dili to Darwin is closer than Melbourne to Sydney. Australia ranks second in the world on the United Nations Human Development Index; Timor-Leste ranks 133 (out of 188 countries).

It shocked me the first time I travelled to Timor and it no doubt shocked East Timor Hearts Fund Dr Noel Bayley (now East Timor Hearts Fund co-founder and honorary medical adviser) when he hopped that short flight back in 2000, not long after the restoration of independence. He saw people dying of preventable illness so close to our shores. A proud nation that needed a hand up, not a hand out.

Now Noel could have done what most people would have done, thrown his hands in the air and said; ‘what can I do…’the problems here are too great’. But Noel being Noel (if you know him) came back to his friends and family and said we have to do something about this. He didn’t hold workshops, or seminars or found a think tank. He got on with it. He started one by one, sometimes two by two, bringing people to Australia for life-saving heart surgery. Almost 20 years on a band of professional volunteers and staff have rallied around Noel’s cause. We continue the work Noel started in mending the broken hearts of our brothers and sisters of Timor-Leste.

People often ask me why I took on the role of CEO for East Timor Hearts Fund. There are a few reasons but perhaps the greatest is that I was drawn to the work of someone like Noel. I like that Noel didn’t philosophise or conceptualise - he got on with it. He treated his patients in Dili just as he would any one of his patients in Warrnambool, a regional city in Australia where Noel lives and practices.

After working for many years in the international development sector I can tell you what people like Noel do. Beyond saving lives, they build trust with community. They build hope. When people truly see you as friend, willing to do what is required, then they will stay with you through the test of time.

This, I believe, is largely the reason why East Timor Hearts Fund is such an incredible organisation. When you meet people in Timor-Leste, whether in the streets of Dili or in government, they all remark that we are true friends of Timor-Leste. This friendship can’t be bought, or conceptualised or workshopped, it is only achieved through blood, sweat and tears. This is a culture Noel established and it will endure.

Today we learned that Dr Noel Bayley has been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday honours.

Unsurprisingly, as I write this Noel is once again leading our volunteer medical team in Timor-Leste this Queen’s Birthday long weekend. No time for self-congratulation, or even relaxation, Noel is back out there helping our neighbours, saving lives and continuing the work he started almost 20 years ago.

Noel, we are indebted to you for the work you have done and the work you continue to do. It is an honour to work alongside you and I’m sure I speak for all the volunteers, staff and supports of East Timor Hearts Fund in congratulating you on your much-deserved Order of Australia award.

- Stuart Thomson, CEO 

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Scaling mountains for healthy hearts

Our board chair Ingrid Svendsen explains why she's trekking across mountains for East Timor Hearts Fund

Walking 135km across mountains is one of the more unusual duties I’ve been called on to undertake as chair of the board of East Timor Hearts Fund. But I love a challenge, so in July I’ll once again don boots and backpack for the Trans-Timor Trek.

The inaugural event last year was an incredible experience, even for someone who has visited Timor-Leste numerous times and travelled to some of its most inaccessible beauty spots. The sunrise from the 2986 metre Mt Ramelau is all the more spectacular when you’ve travelled there on foot, carrying a 20-kilo backpack.

The trip is not just a holiday jaunt; its goal is to raise awareness of heart health issues in Timor-Leste, where one in 28 school children, and one in 20 girls, has treatable, preventable, rheumatic heart disease.

We also aim to raise $20,000 to help mend one of those broken hearts.

You can find out more about the trek on our website. Please go to the trek fundraising page to sponsor any of the six hardy souls who are putting their bodies on the line for heart health in Timor-Leste. And please – wish me luck!

– Ingrid Svendsen

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Making heart health history

Making heart health history

Like many in the international heart health community, we rejoiced this month when the 71st World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, unanimously adopted a resolution calling for a coordinated global response to end rheumatic heart disease (RHD) world-wide.

This was an historic decision – the first time that RHD has been recognised as a global health priority on the world stage.

It was also a proud moment for the government of Timor-Leste. Timor-Leste’s government representatives made a speech in front of the world in support of the resolution, reaffirming the government’s commitment to taking action on RHD. This commitment included the announcement in April by the Timor-Leste Ministério da Saúde (Ministry of Health) to partner with organisations including East Timor Hearts Fund and the World Health Organisation to develop and RHD action plan by the end of the year.

The government of Timor-Leste’s renewed focus on RHD follows the release in April of our landmark rheumatic heart disease prevalence study, which showed that Timor-Leste has amongst the world’s highest rates of this treatable, preventable condition.

East Timor Hearts Fund looks forward to working with our friends the Ministry of Health, and our partners in Timor-Leste, to help put an end to the rheumatic heart disease in Timor-Leste. In the meantime, we continue to partner on preventative health and education initiatives, such as our penicillin program, and to identify and offer surgery for the most critical cases.

Read CEO Stuart Thomson's special update.

Find out more about our work for healthy hearts in Timor-Leste.

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Mending broken equipment, so we can mend hearts

East Timor Hearts Fund has supported the establishment of Timor-Leste’s first cardiac care ward at Hospital Nacional Guido Valadares, with a

significant donation of specialist equipment, courtesy of our great friends Cardioscan.

Our volunteer biomedical engineer Gordon Szegi ensures that the equipment remains in good working order so that East Timor Hearts Fund and its partners can continue to deliver quality care to heart patients.

Gordon accompanied our volunteer medical team to Dili 15 months ago to assemble and set up the equipment at Hospital Nacional Guido Valadares. In June he will make a return visit, to do a check up on the donated patient monitors, ECG machines and diagnostic cardiac ultrasound units.

Maintaining sensitive medical equipment in a humid tropical environment is a test of resourcefulness, but Gordon is well prepared for the challenge.

“Working in a regional hospital in country Victoria, in Australia, there’s the expectation to try and get most devices up and running yourself, with phone support from the supplier. So it’s useful to have an understanding of how a device is to perform on a patient, “ Gordon says. “A background in electronics and being able to problem solve on the spot definitely helps as well.”

You can read Gordon’s profile, and keep an eye on our Facebook page for updates on his work in Dili.

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Historic moment for rheumatic heart disease battle

A special update from our CEO

Historic moment for rheumatic heart disease battle

I woke this morning to the most incredible news. Late last night eastern Australian time the 71st World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, unanimously adopted a resolution to end rheumatic heart disease (RHD) globally. This is an historic decision as it marks the first time that RHD has been recognised as a global health priority on the world stage. The resolution calls for a coordinated global response to tackle RHD.

It was also a proud moment for the government of Timor-Leste. Timor-Leste’s government representatives made a speech in front of the world in support of the resolution, reaffirming the government’s commitment to taking action on RHD. This commitment includes the announcement last month by the Timor-Leste Ministério da Saúde (Ministry of Health) to develop, by the end of the year, an action plan on RHD, in partnership with organisations including East Timor Hearts Fund and the World Health Organisation.

The government of Timor-Leste’s renewed focus on RHD follows the release last month of our landmark rheumatic heart disease prevalence study, which showed that Timor-Leste has amongst the world’s highest rates of this treatable, preventable condition. The study showed that one in 28 overall have rheumatic heart disease, and one in 20 girls.

I am looking forward to working with our friends the Ministry of Health, and our partners in Timor-Leste, to help put an end to the rheumatic heart disease in Timor-Leste. In the meantime, we continue to partner on preventative health and education initiatives, such as our penicillin program, and to identify and offer surgery for the most critical cases.

The World Health Assembly resolution is a great step forward – but it is just a first step. Now the hard work begins to ensure that this resolution is put into action.

Thank you for your support as we work together to mend broken hearts and put an end to the misery of rheumatic heart for our neighbours in Timor-Leste.

Stuart Thomson

CEO, East Timor Hearts Fund

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