Friends of Fiji tackle tough surgery lists

A 'Friends of Fiji Health' (FOFH) General Surgical team, including six people from Tauranga, has successfully carried out nearly 30 operations at Lautoka Hospital - training local staff in the latest laparoscopic (keyhole) techniques. 

The eight-person team, led by general surgeon Dr Rishi Ram from Auckland, arrived back in New Zealand on Monday October 8 after a 12-day visit.

Tauranga locals taking part were general surgeon Dr Avinesh Kumar and his GP wife Amrita, anaesthetist Dr Reta McLeod, specialist theatre nurses Jo Dunstan and Tara Mudgway, and specialised neonatal nurse Heather Mc Alley.

The two surgeons' wives, both GP's, Dr Amrita Kumar, and Dr Ranjani Ram, worked with local doctors in general practice, and also had a training role.

Heather Mc Alley worked at the hospital's neonatal unit, passing on her skills in the intensive care of premature babies.  

The visit is one of a number which have been made by doctors and medical personnel under the FOFH programme which was set up 18 months ago in July 2010 as a charitable trust.

Seven Fijian doctors and businessmen who'd immigrated to New Zealand, set up the charity to give something back to their homeland. FOFH's main aim is to send teams of specialists to Fiji periodically, to provide medical treatment for needy locals.   

"One of the most satisfying things about the work was visiting patients in the ward next day and seeing their smiling faces, as some had waited in some discomfort a long time for their surgery, says Dr Kumar. "The patients and their families' gratitude was very touching and rewarding for us."

Drs Kumar and Ram both worked at Lautoka Hospital early in their careers, so they "well understand some of the challenges that local staff face.

"It's great to be able to give something back in the form of our expertise and some equipment, and it gives us great satisfaction in being able to do so," says Dr Kumar.  

The New Zealand team has praised generous contributions received from a variety of businesses and individuals which helped make the visit possible.

Dr Kumar says they included Grace Hospital in Tauranga, which loaned some equipment, and Pathlab Bay of Plenty which carried out some free cervical smear testing.

The Tauranga nurses collected donated clothing for premature babies and breast pumps for nursing mothers, to take along on the trip.  

- Bay of Plenty Times

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