When HRI researcher Kelly Stanton took three months off her PhD to take part in a humanitarian mission in the Asia Pacific, she didn’t know what to expect.
Deployed as the defence force cardiologist on board the USNS Mercy, the only thing Kelly knew was that they were looking for an Australian cardiologist. The mission saw Kelly travel to Timor Leste, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia, providing medical support and sharing knowledge with health professionals in each country.
The USNS Mercy, which can treat up to 1000 patients, is equipped with hospital-quality equipment and services, capable of doing everything, if not more, than most hospitals in Australia.
One of the most memorable projects was in Vietnam, where Kelly worked with cardiologists to close around 25 to 30 holes in hearts. “We provided the equipment so they didn’t need to pay for it which was often an impediment to their ability to treat these conditions,” she said on her return. “We also got to work together, learning each other’s techniques, educating, training and supporting the Vietnamese cardiologists and also the community.”
Kelly says while each country was different in its medical capabilities, the calibre of doctors was very high, with many trained internationally. “The doctors and nurses were unbelievable. They always had their doors open,” says Kelly.
The major impediment countries faced was the cost of health care and lack of resources. Hospitals were often overflowing with patients, with patients having to share beds or even have family members bring in their own bed from home.
Timor Leste had the most challenges in terms of health care resources. “A number of those patients would not be able to afford the procedure had it not been for us donating some of these devices,” says Kelly.
Kelly is a cardiologist and a PhD student currently working with the Clinical Research group at HRI. She is completing her PhD on the effects of exercise on cardiovascular health and cardiac remodeling.