New lease of life

Luke Ravuga, 9, of Laselase, Sigatoka, is watched over by his mum Iliseva Ravoka Qoli after his surgery at the CWM hospital in Suva. Picture: ATASA MOCEITUBA

NINE-YEAR-OLD Luke Ravuga who has been suffering from rheumatic heart disease was given a new lease of life this week thanks to the visit by the Australian-based Open Heart International team. Luke’s mother, Iliseva Ravoka Qoli, 43, said she travelled to the Colonial War Memorial Hospital (CWMH) from their home in Laselase, Sigatoka with her son on Monday for the operation. The emotional mother of two, originally from Namataveikai Tokaimalo, Ra, was grateful for the surgery. She said Luke was only 14 months old when the sickness was first detected. Luke attends Sigatoka Methodist Primary School and is in Year 4. Mrs Qoli said even though Luke — her eldest child — was sick, he was always active until he had a major fall last year. His life changed after he fell from the bed and he started suffering from breathlessness. Last year doctors found excessive liquid in his heart and Luke was operated at the Lautoka Hospital to get it drained, but he had not fully recovered, Mrs Qoli explained. That was why the family was excited when they received a phone call from CWMH for this surgery by the Australian heart specialists. Open Heart International Intensive Care specialist Dr Neil Orford said they had performed 18 surgeries from Sunday until yesterday. “The main team got here on Saturday and we started operating on Sunday at lunch time and we are still going. “There are kids as little as babies, toddlers and infants, and boys 9, 16, 15 and 18 years old up to some 40 to 50-year olds but mainly people who are in their mid-teens,” said Dr Orford. He said they had completed 18 surgeries in just four days so far. “We want to do as much work as we can and help as many people over here with rheumatic heart disease offering valve replacements and valve repairs.” Dr Orford said the Australian Open Heart International team had been carrying out surgeries in Fiji for the past 25 years. “It feels so good to help people who can’t afford this surgery,” he said. One surgery takes about three to four hours and patients spend one day in the intensive care unit and up to five days in the ward for recovery before they are discharged. Volunteer members of the Open Heart International are from Australia, New Zealand and Boston and there’s about 30 to 40 staff members who are here for this visit, Dr Orford said yesterday. They start work at 8.30am and finish at 7pm daily. Open Heart International co-ordinator Fiji Melanie Windus said one operation usually costs about $6000. “This is our 25th trip and we’ve operated on 824 patients for the past 25 years,” she said. The team is here for 10 days and will leave next Tuesday.