Posted by Hayley Burns on Aug 27, 2017

Paediatric Surgeon Brendon Bowkett spoke to our club about the work he and his colleagues have been achieving in Timor with the Rotary Oceanic Medical Aid for Children program. ROMAC’s aim is to provide specialist treatment for children from developing countries, in the form of life saving and/or dignity restoring surgery not accessible to them in their home country, providing hope and restoring dignity.


While Dr Brendon is based at Wellington Hospital, he has travelled to Timor a number of times, transforming the lives of many families who otherwise would be suffering from the emotional and mental stress of having a child with major medical complications. He described his work and the impacts it has, allowing children to return to or start school. The team perform six to eight weeks worth of surgeries in a week, in conditions and with equipment of a much lower calibre than they are used to in New Zealand.


He was incredibly humble, telling us “we’re just doing our jobs, the miracle is that we get support from Rotary to do this”. He praised and honoured his colleagues for their contribution to the success in Timor.


Nurse Grace supported staff who don’t usually work with children to better understand and work with young patients in an adult ward. Dr Brendon showed us a picture of Grace blowing bubbles in an outpatient clinic, and talked about the importance of play therapy when working with children.


Nurse Fiona supported the surgeons in theatre. Her efforts in ensuring the swab count was correct at the end of surgery was very challenging, but getting this right can be life saving. If the swab count is wrong, the surgery itself is a waste of time. Fiona likely saved a child’s life when she informed surgeons there was a swab missing. She managed this without the usual methods she would be able to employ in NZ. Without X-ray abilities and the streamlining of processes, Fiona had to manually account for all swabs, with the added challenge of them being used by others in theatre, including the anaesthetist!


Not only are the ROMAC team helping the children, they are also passing valuable knowledge and skills on to the Timorese medical staff. With the support of ROMAC, standards of hospital cleanliness and care are improving with every visit, and the Timorese staff are empowered to take charge of patient treatment plans and outcomes.


Dr Brendon told us that the connections between communities is one of the most important outcomes of his work. He shared stories of the Timorese people; their humour, their strength, and their resourcefulness. He repeatedly highlighted the support of Rotary in his being able to contribute to peoples’ lives in Timor. When David thanked Dr Brendon and his team, he said it is an honour and a privilege for our club to be able to support their team in their work. And he’s right. What incredible and life changing work to support!