Without Don and Meg and Richard’s persistence and God’s miraculous help it would not have been possible.
We landed back in Melbourne with Lerica Bovu and her aunty Serah Lenga on Sunday 16th August. Lerica is a child from Pentecost who was suffering from rheumatic heart disease that had caused a major leak in her mitral valve. We found her 2 years ago but had had no luck in getting a place for her in any of our hospitals until now. ROMAC had contacted me in May to say that if I could get her there a place was available at the Mater Hospital in Brisbane in late August, but no actual date was possible because of the demand on intensive care beds being caused by swine flu.
In the 2 years since Dr Matt Labattaglia had diagnosed her problem and indicated surgery was needed Lerica had ‘dropped off the radar’ completely. Richard Tatwin had made some enquiries and had established that she was now somewhere on Santo but no one knew where exactly. On the off chance while we were waiting between flights in Luganville I decided to go to the Hospital and make enquiries about her. Quite miraculously it happened that Lerica and Serah were sitting outside the children’s ward (!) and so we were able to start the ball rolling in getting them here. The two year delay had meant Aunty Serah had taken over care of the child and through regular medical support good diet and loving care had transformed her. She had been very sick when we saw her but was now looking in good condition and far more able to face major surgery.
Getting their visas proven quite a challenge and meant that Meg and I had to stay in Vila for an extra very busy and frustrating week. The High Commission was horribly frustrating, and after fouling up their forms and losing their medical clearances refused to accept that Aunty Serah was the legal guardian. Lerica’s parents are illiterate and don’t speak English but we had managed to get a letter written that was translated to them and the father signed on behalf of both of them. However the Immigration Department would not accept it because it was not on the correct form and only one parent had signed. Actually obtaining this form proved totally impossible. As a result I rang a nurse on Pentecost and dictated a letter to him. He then walked to the village translated the letter to the mother and got her signature on it. This they then got a person who was flying down on the Sunday plane to bring through to us. This was still not good enough.
I protested as you might imagine but did not get far. They told me the only way to get around what to me looked an impossible demand was to have a court order, so off I went to the magistrates court. They sent me to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court said that the High Commission’s ruling was nonsense and all I needed was a letter from the public solicitor confirming the medical urgency as documented by the various doctors who had been dealing with Lerica and stating that as far as Vanuatu was concerned Aunty Serah was the legal guardian. This I duly obtained only to be told that Vanuatu might think this was OK but not our Immigration Department. For them the signatures were still not good enough in spite of the fact that the head of the Health Department, the pediatrician from Luganville and the Medical Superintendent of The Vila Central Hospital had confirmed that Serah had been looking after the child for the past 2 years and that surgery in Australia was Lerica’s only hope.
In the end Donald Simon from down stairs at Sutherland House suggested that I take it to the Deputy Prime Minister as he is man Pentecost. When I suggested this to Serah she told me she was related to him and he knew Lerica and her family situation very well. So off we trotted to see the Right Honorable Ham Lini and he wrote a letter that finally swung the case for us.
Expecting at least a couple of weeks before getting the call to go into hospital in Brisbane we brought them back to Melbourne. Both Aunty and her charge were travelling very light and needed clothes and shoes to survive our winter cold. This we soon remedied and decided a trip to the Zoo was in order as a part of the surgical preparation. With Dr Graeme Duke’s help we got extra medications for Lerica and then headed for Valencia Creek.
No sooner had we arrived home, than ROMAC called to say that surgery had been arranged for Wednesday 26th and could we get a basic medical done and have any dental work attended to? Thanks to Dr Ann Miller this was done and we flew Serah and Lerica up to Brisbane on Sunday. I managed to arrange Dr Ron Ramm who had been a doctor in Vanuatu to go with them to have the pre op stuff done on Monday. He speaks Bislama and was able to help to calm a very apprehensive Aunty Serah and that was great. Surgery went ahead yesterday and was successful.
I rang Serah a few minutes ago (Thursday 27th) and she told me that Lerica was looking fantastic and was up walking around. I am completely amazed at this and can only say thank you God.
Don and Meg Macraild