Dr Noel Bayley AM
I first went to Timor-Leste in 2000, the year after independence. For some time, I’d been interested in doing some pro bono work in the developing world as, like many middle-class Australians, I felt absurdly privileged in comparison to most of the world’s citizens. It seemed to me that the least I could do was to try in some small measure to share my good fortune.
Initially I was involved with a small clinic in the hills above Gleno, southwest of Dili. My principal area of professional expertise is the assessment and treatment of heart disease and it became apparent to me that there was a large burden of untreated cardiac disease in Timor-Leste, a great deal of it due to rheumatic fever. Seeing a need, I set about diagnosing and arranging surgery for young adults with life-threatening conditions that were readily treatable in Australia.
In the last decade, I have made more than 30 trips to Timor-Leste and have had the privilege of seeing many hundreds of patients. I experience real joy every time we are able to arrange surgery through the generosity of donors, colleagues and hospitals in Australia.
I strongly feel that as Australians we have a real responsibility to help our neighbours in Timor-Leste. Quite apart from our geographic proximity, I believe there is a debt to be paid for the Timorese involvement during the World War II. In many ways, the work I do in Timor parallels my Australian professional life, but I see the opportunity to use my skills in an unpaid capacity as one of the great joys and privileges of my life.
In 2010, I had just returned from a holiday to Timor-Leste when I read a news story about a cardiologist who undertook pro bono work there. The story was about the plight of two teenage girls whose lives were at risk because of a lack of funds to bring them to Australia for heart surgery.
It seemed unconscionable to me that a kid the same age as my own son could die from an eminently fixable heart condition, so I tracked down Dr Noel Bayley to send him money. It turned out, I was one of many, many donors that week. With my background in media and communications, it became clear that my skills would be worth more than my money. Along with Glyn Palmer, the then CEO of St John of God Warrnambool, Noel and I established East Timor Hearts Fund.
As the organisation has grown and moved to a more professional footing, my role has changed. In the early days, I was involved in recruiting sponsors to assist with travel and other costs and communications activities such as creating a website and social media properties, and securing media attention for our patients. Now, I am the inaugural board chair, so my role is a broad one of oversight of the governance of the organisation. We are growing rapidly and I’m excited to see where the future will take us.
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