World

Aussie surgeons transforming lives in Bali

Aussie surgeons transforming lives in Bali
Scarred not only on the outside but on the inside as well, dozens of patients - mostly children - and their families line up outside the John Fawcett Foundation office in Bali.
The expressions on their faces show a mix of apprehension and excitement because they're about to meet their beacons of hope.
Those beacons are doctors Tim Cooper and Mark Duncan Smith, Perth plastic surgeons who year after year pay their own way to Asia to transform the lives of burns and cleft lip patients.
Dr Mark Duncan-Smith goes to Bali every year to help patients who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford treatment.
For 28-year-old Oviedo, his burns mean that his neck is fused to his shoulder, his arm to his chest and his wrist to his arm.
One by one, the patients are invited into a room to be assessed by the doctors who then decide whether surgery is the best option.
Faces light up, especially of parents, who - with the help of translators – are told the news that life-changing help is on the way.
Most are burns victims who were too poor to receive hospital care, resulting in their limbs fusing together.
There's 15-year-old Rofinus who, unable to straighten his legs, is forced to shuffle on the ground.
Fatihatul, just three years old, has tiny fingers that are stuck to her palms after falling onto burning trash a year ago.
For 28-year-old Oviedo, his burns mean that his neck is fused to his shoulder, his arm to his chest and his wrist to his arm - extensive injuries that have caused insecurities for most of his life.
Rofinus's severe burns have left him unable to straighten his legs, meaning he is forced to shuffle along the ground.
Fatihatul, 3, has tiny fingers that are stuck to her palms after falling onto burning trash a year ago.
But the more severe the case, the more determined the Aussie surgeons are to help and volunteer their skills.
Dr Cooper - an Order of Australia recipient - has been making the journey for 22 years and tears up while talking about his reason for doing so.
"It makes a dramatic difference to their life," Dr Cooper said.
"It means the difference between getting a job and not getting a job, getting married and not getting married, those sort of things."
Dr Duncan-Smith said the patients wouldn't otherwise have access to or be able to afford such treatment.
"Why am I here? Because I've seen this stuff before," he said.
"I have the skills to be able to help and fix it and so that's what I'm here doing."
Generous donations to the John Fawcett Foundation pay for the patients and their families to be flown from all over Indonesia and for their hospital fees.
Only a day after the initial assessments, the surgeries begin.
The pair perform back-to-back surgeries for about 30 hours over three days, operating on 17 people.
There are tears from some parents - overwhelmed with fear and excitement all at once - as their children are wheeled away on hospital beds to be anaesthetised.
It's a mammoth task for the surgeon pair.
Over three days and about 30 hours they're operating on 17 people in back-to-back surgeries, and in many cases performing very intricate procedures.
The program is also about teaching local doctors and nurses.
"For Tim and Mark. thanks big time from me and the patients," Doctor Ketut Anom said.
For the humble surgeons, their reward comes after the operations.
Arkileo, 12, gives the doctors a huge grin as they assess him the day after surgery, his leg now laying straight on the hospital bed. Before, his hamstring was fused to his calf.
The boy tells his heroes he'll now be able to play soccer again, his favourite activity.
In a nearby bed, parents momentarily stop doting on their baby and rush to shake hands with the surgeons.
A surgery recipient expresses her gratitude.
Their seven-month-old daughter Qiana had cleft lip surgery and will now grow up without a reason to be shy.
"That's a win," Mr Cooper said following the encounter.
Sometimes the surgeons also get to meet with patients they'd operated on years earlier.
They say hearing about how the patients' lives have been transformed for the better spurs them to keep going.
Heldi, 26, used to refuse to leave her home after an oil lamp exploded in her face.
Now, thanks to the surgeons, she's got her sights set on university and maybe even a boyfriend.
"After surgery, I can do everything and I'm very happy for my life so thank you," Heldi said.