The gift of a new heart has been a wonderful Christmas present for young Tongan woman Viola Maka.
The 25-year-old from the village of Lapaha, who has been living at Redbank Plains in Brisbane’s west while seeking treatment at The Wesley Hospital, underwent the complex open heart surgery in November to replace two damaged heart valves.
Over four hours, Wesley cardiothoracic surgeon Dr Bruce Garlick, kidney specialist Dr Simon Flemming, cardiac imaging specialist Dr Peter Cain and their medical team were able to successfully replace the faulty valves with two new mechanical ones.
Viola, who also suffers from lupus and kidney problems, was diagnosed late last year with the life-threatening heart problem, leading to a shortness of breath that made it hard to perform ordinary tasks.
“I am very lucky to have this operation because in Tonga it would not be possible,’’ she said.
This week, Viola and members of the Tongan Community returned to the Wesley to present a bounty of flowers and traditional handicrafts to the Director of Medical Services Dr Luis Prado and chaplain Reverend Murray Fysh in gratitude for the hospital saving her life.
TongaCare president and Uniting Church minister, Rev Viliami Mila, said the health system in Tonga is very poor. ”Serious problems like Viola’s cannot be treated there and the cost of an operation like this is between $100,000 and $180,000 in Australia.
“We don’t have enough words to express our gratitude to the hospital, the doctors and the medical team that performed the operation without any expense to Viola and the company that provided the mechanical heart valves, ‘’ he said.
Accepting the gifts, Rev. Fysh said, with a new heart, Viola will now be able to live life fearlessly and energetically.
Viola first came to Brisbane three years ago to visit her family and became too ill to return to home. Shortly after she was diagnosed with the chronic inflammatory auto-immune condition lupus and kidney problems.
In December 2013 she received the shocking news that one of her heart valves was not working and another was leaking. Her doctors at the Wesley said her heart was so severely damaged she could die if she returned to Tonga without treatment.
With the help of TongaCare, Viola’s family and Brisbane’s Tongan community set about fundraising for the operation to rebuild Viola’s heart, raising $31,500 and $5500 respectively, towards her ongoing medical costs.
The surgery went ahead on November 17, thanks to the generosity of The Wesley Hospital’s Medical Advisory Committee charitable fund.
Dr Luis Prado said the fund is made up of contributions from Wesley specialists to enable them to treat international patients, usually from the Pacific region, for free.
Viola’s condition is still fragile but she is now on the road to recovery and undergoing rehabilitation at the Wesley. She will not know until February whether she can return to Tonga, where ongoing treatment remains a problem.