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Thoughts of our Youth Volunteers

Last year, we had two entirely self funded university students volunteer with us - to help the team and see what we do. Tasks ranged from running down to the pharmacy to buy drugs we were running short of, to typing up surgical notes and pushing beds to theatre.

Below are summaries from these two keen volunteers.

Matt Sargent
picture of Matt Sargent

In 2014 I was fortunate enough to be given an opportunity to travel to Fiji with the paediatric unit now established as Hearts4kids. What an absolutely incredible experience.

The thing that blew me away the most was the team. Taking time from their jobs and families, they work long hot days to help these children in need. Not having much clinical experience myself, I was amazed to see how their roles and expertise combined so fluidly in such a new and unfamiliar environment. Working without a lot of the luxuries and equipment available in NZ hospitals, they managed to provide these Fijian kids with lifesaving surgical procedures and superb rehabilitation care.

Having played a part in the previous year’s adult mission, I was accustomed to the layout of Lautoka’s hospital. I was able to make myself useful sorting and distributing the large quantities of medical equipment we brought with us to the appropriate rooms. I also helped to transport the patients between rooms and spent my nights typing up surgical notes for each of the operations.

In my downtime I got to know some of the patients and their families. All of whom were from very modest and sometimes impoverished backgrounds. It was extremely humbling to talk with them and witness the huge level of gratitude shown by each family. The kids themselves were utterly adorable. Some of them were nervous before surgery but afterwards I’d see them in the recovery ward with the most enormous smiles.

One particular boy, Samali, was a rugby fanatic. Throughout his time on the ward, I got along with him really well and he told me all about playing rugby and his favourite All Black and Fijian players. Being really keen on sport myself, I asked if he was sad about not being able to play rugby. I found the maturity in his response heart-warming, “I miss it” he said “but I am very happy to be alive with my family”.

Looking back, my time spent in Fiji was a life changing and eye opening experience. I understand now why these health professionals work the hard days and long hot hours. It is all worthwhile when you realise what has been achieved for these children and their families. Without this amazing team and the organization behind them, these kids would not be saved. The hearts4kids operations depend heavily on monetary donations to cover the costs of medical supplies. Therefore thanks must also go to the awesome people out there who recognise the significant impact of these missions and support the cause with generous donations.

Personally, I found it an incredible experience to work with such amazing people. I cannot thank the team enough for taking me on-board. I learnt so much from my time in Fiji and I hope to one day return as a qualified professional.

Matthew Sargent is a third year undergraduate student studying physiology at the University of Auckland and these are his impressions following working with the team.

Shamini Mahadevan
picture of Shamini Mahadevan

The work that Hearts4Kids medical team do is inspiring. I was lucky enough to be a volunteer for the team in 2014 which travelled to Lautoka, Fiji, performing 12 operations over 5 days. Without any doubt it was the most rewarding and interesting week of my life.

On the first day I observed the clinics and met some of the patients. It was clear from these clinics just how in need the patients were of treatment and also how grateful they were. Everyone in the team seemed to have their roles downpat, were organised and worked efficiently. I soon found that there were many little jobs that I could do from sorting out the equipment for the technicians to relaying information from the wards to the surgical unit. The environment was fast-paced. There was absolutely no mucking around. Everyone was there with the same purpose, to help these children.

One of the most rewarding experiences I had was spending time with the children waiting for surgery down on the ward. We talked, played games and read the children’s books that the team brought with them. Most of the children were really nervous but I was amazed by how cheerful they were, I think that even at the young ages of 7 and 8 they understood that the operations were necessary and would be life changing. The families of the children were so friendly and loving. I made many new friends, one family even gave me their email and address and invited me to come and stay in their village next time I was in Fiji.

Observing the operations was another incredible part of the visit. I was amazed by the team’s ability to work together so efficiently in such a different environment. Resources were obviously limited and most of the equipment had to be brought over from New Zealand. This proved a huge task not only organisationally but in terms of having an unstructured environment. I thought that it was amazing the way that the team managed with what they had and organised themselves to provide such successful outcomes for the patients.

Helping the paediatric team out was one of the most worthwhile experiences I have had. The importance of the work that the team does cannot be over emphasised. I know that the surgeries performed last year are going to make such a difference to these children and their families. It was awesome to work alongside such a skilled and friendly bunch of medical professionals who all have the same goal- to provide access to life-changing cardiac surgery for children in the Pacific. These children deserve the opportunity to lead fulfilling and active lives, opportunities that we take for granted in New Zealand.

Dennis Lal (Dennis)
picture of Dennis Lal

Dennis is currently working as a registered nurse in Paediatric intensive care but as he is still in a junior role he will be joining the mission this year as a self funded volunteer.   His previous work as a health care assistant in PICU means that he is used to doing whatever is needed on the floor. Dennis will be mostly working with the PICU team providing valuable support to staff and families.  Dennis comes from Fiji and will provide cultural knowledge and translation. His energy and enthusiasm for hearts4kids fundraising from the beginning has been so valuable and it will be great for him to be a part of the team. 

Dennis is looking forward to September 2017  "I can have the opportunity to give something back to the country and community. I aim to get the NZL based Fijian, IndoFijian and the Pacific Community more aware about the good deed that H4K team does, as this is a community who will know why this Mission is so important." 

There will potentially be opportunities to join us in a similar role over the coming years. Prerequisites will obviously be around positive attitude and willing to work hard. As well as being self-funded, you would have to be willing/able to help fundraise for the project as a whole (not just your own expenses) prior to coming.