|Subject: Age: A picture of health, Isaura
gives heart-felt thanks
The Age [Melbourne] Tuesday 16 May 2000
A picture of health, Isaura gives heart-felt thanks
By MARK DODD DILI
Photo: After and before: A radiant Isaura de Silva back home in Dili. Isaura, who underwent emergency heart surgery in Melbourne earlier this year, is back at school for two hours a day - that is all the shattered state of East Timor's education can offer. Picture: JOEL RUBIN
Walking more than a kilometre to school is quite an achievement for Isaura da Silva, the East Timorese teenager who underwent emergency heart surgery in Melbourne earlier this year.
Well again and home in Dili, Isaura attends secondary school for two hours a day - that is all the shattered state of East Timor's education system can offer.
"I feel very good and I am back at school. Before, I couldn't walk far and I always had a cough and fever. I'm much stronger. I walk to school and that's more than one kilometre," she said.
Her favorite subject is English and she enjoys Portuguese, religious studies and mathematics.
Her life-threatening condition meant she was unlikely to live for more than a few years and would almost certainly have died had she become pregnant.
She is one of 11 children. An elder brother died of a similar condition at the age of 15.
When pro-Jakarta militia were torching and looting houses in Dili in September, the Da Silva family was unable to escape into the hills because of Isaura's poor health.
Her mother Olinda begged the militia not to burn their home. They relented and looted the property instead. Isaura was spared the ordeal of forced deportation across the border into West Timor.
A French army medical team in Dili first diagnosed Isaura's condition in December. In January, the 13-year-old arrived in Melbourne and underwent four hours of emergency surgery to rectify a damaged heart valve.
The successful operation was made possible by generous donations from the Australian public and has guaranteed Isaura a normal life.
Getting her to Melbourne was an international effort. The UN issued identity papers, the Australian Mission in East Timor quickly approved emergency medical visas, the International Force in East Timor put on a special military evacuation flight from Dili to Darwin while Qantas pitched in with free seats to bring Isaura, her mother and a translator from Darwin to Melbourne.
Other key helpers were the Ryder-Cheshire Foundation which supplied accommodation, and the Royal Children's Hospital and Monash Medical Centre which handled the surgery and post-operative care.
Ryder-Cheshire is planning to open a 100-bed day care centre in Dili for East Timorese recovering from surgery or arriving for medical care from rural areas.
Apart from rudimentary care provided by a handful of international aid agencies, health services in East Timor, particularly in rural areas, remain virtually non-existent.
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