Volunteer work puts life in perspective

A volunteer experience in Africa thirteen years ago changed RN Lyn Thorpe`s life.

In 1993, accompanying a plastic surgeon to Africa to assist in reconstructive surgery, she found all her life values were ‘put in the right perspective’. Lyn, a part-time RN at John Hunter Hospital, has a 40-year career as a nurse and NSWNA member.

‘I learnt the basic values of life. All these people wanted for their children was food in their bellies, clothes on their backs, a roof over their heads and an education – [in Australia] we never stop wanting things,’ she said.

In 2006, Lyn and her husband David, a retired builder, went to Papua New Guinea with Australian Business Volunteers, an arm of AusAid, to build a classroom and library for Kapuna Christian Mission Hospital.

The aim was to build facilities where nurses could train to become community health care workers and go out into villages and diagnose malaria, HIV/AIDS, scabies, leprosy, do minor surgical procedures and deliver babies.

‘Whilst my husband was building the classroom and library I was teaching the nurses basic nursing care terminology and procedures.

‘During this time I met Hadassah, a young woman who’d suffered severe burns in a kerosene stove accident. She would sit in a wheelchair on the hospital veranda every day. I’d hear her scream in pain each morning as they changed her dry dressings. I met her 18 months after the accident and there had been very little healing,’ she said.

Lyn built up a relationship with Hadassah, whom she describes as an intelligent and articulate young woman. Lyn asked Hadassah if she would consider coming to Australia for medical attention if Lyn could organise financial assistance through her involvement with Rotary.

When Lyn arrived back in Australia she began fundraising – so far collecting $40,000 to pay for approximately four operations. Dr Robert Gates is performing all procedures free of charge but the cost of the hospital bed per day and extras such as pharmacy, X-rays, pathology, scans and physiotherapy are the biggest expenses.

‘Hadassah has had her burns skin grafted and is healing well. However, she has a bad contracture of her left arm and both groins, which has limited her movements. She’s had an operation to straighten one leg and has one or two operations to go until she’s able to walk again.’

Rehabilitation will take about one year after which she hopes to return to PNG and finish her education so she can become a schoolteacher like her father, a primary school principal. Hadassah’s mother is a nurse.

When asked if she would consider a nursing career like her mother, Hadassah laughed and gave a diplomatic answer, ‘I want to be a teacher so that I can educate children to become nurses.’

Hadassah said she is very grateful to Lyn and her husband for everything.