Nepean nurses bring smiles to Bangladesh

Annie Vincent with patient Marium, after the operation.
Annie Vincent with patient Marium, after the operation.

Since 2007, a group of Nepean nurses and doctors have donated their skills and experience to patients in Bangladesh, one of the most impoverished countries in the world.

The dedication of some nurses knows no bounds. In November last year, a team of six theatre nurses and four doctors from Nepean Hospital in Sydney took annual leave to perform cleft palate, cleft lip, and post-burns surgery on patients in Bangladesh.

They paid their own airfares and accommodation, having raised the money to cover patient costs. All of their clinical services were provided free.

The venture was a product of the Aussi Bangla Smile Project, created in 2007 by senior theatre nurse Barbara Mitchell and Bangladesh-born doctor Hasan Sarwar, along with senior teammates Judy Barlow and Angela Brady. The Nepean Rotary Club now supports the project.

Barbara Mitchell told The Lamp it was the group’s fourth trip to Bangladesh, one of the most impoverished countries in the world.

“We successfully completed 115 surgeries bringing our tally to a total of 421 “smiles on faces” since 2007,’ she said.

Experience overcomes tough conditions

Barbara’s colleague, Judy Barlow, the 2010 team leader, says that while the experience can be grueling it is also immensely rewarding.

“Conditions are tough and there are many hours of travelling to the remote health facilities and, once there, we work from 8am till 11pm some nights. We are so motivated by these beautiful, brave little children and adults. The surgeries give dramatic improvements, enabling them to fit into society, to learn, communicate and even swallow their food normally,” she said. “Intra-operatively, patients receive oxygen, N2O, halothane and fentanyl, are hand-ventilated and monitored with just a pulse oximeter and our trained eyes.

“Each surgery on average takes one and three quarter hours and we run two and sometimes three operating tables in one big room.

“We have no issues with sterility as we are all senior staff with years of experience. Each case is treated as though we are in separate rooms, maintaining hygiene and infection control constantly. This is good for any little airway challenges that may arise on induction and emergence.”

The whole nine yards

Members of the group not only give up their annual leave to go to Bangladesh, they also give up their spare time to raise the funds needed to finance the project.

“We have two major fundraising events a year. We host a Trivia Night in St Mary’s, which brings in more than 450 people and raised more than $15,000 last year. We also hosted a benefit concert in the Blue Mountains, which raised just over $3,800. Johnson and Johnson have donated sutures and Koala have donated anaesthetic consumables,” said Judy.

With companies donating supplies, each $200 raised is used to fund a surgical procedure. Judy’s most recent trip was her third and the second for Pia Buckingham and Sandy Burrow. Linda Mee, Kim Merceica and Annie Vincent were fellow team members.

“Some of us had never travelled to the Far East, but we coped incredibly well together, forming a bond in sharing a wonderful lifetime experience,” Judy said.


Sandy Burrow, Clinical Nurse Specialist

“We were greatly rewarded by the sweet faces of the brave Bangladeshi children, the gratitude of their parents and carers and the generosity, support and friendship of the local hospital staff.”

Pia Buckingham, Scrub and Scout Nurse

“I have difficulty in measuring the amount of self-fulfillment and pride that I feel. It was incredible that we could change a person’s life forever, and for the better, in the space of a couple of hours. ?I feel humbled by my experience in Bangladesh. It was an experience that I will never forget.”

Annie Vincent RN

“This experience was a privilege, and one I will never forget. It gave me great pleasure and pride that I?contributed so little and made a life long change to all the cases. After I came back it gave me a totally different outlook on life.”

Dr Hasan Sarwar, Team Surgeon

“This could be a role model for another group to start some international charity work on a small scale with their expertise. All it needs is some dedicated members, honesty, sincerity and commitment and hard work to take up the challenge.”

All donations to the Aussi Bangla Smile Project are tax deductible. For more information visit