Watching the miracle of life-changing surgery in Tonga

The volunteer Interplast team that travelled to Tonga in February 2017. Photo: Woodrow Wilson

By Di North

This article is taken from the latest edition of our Rotarian Review newsletter.

As the Interplast District Chair for District 9675 for four years, I spent a lot of time visiting clubs to raise awareness of Interplast. In the first two years, the Rotarians of District 9675 raised the significant funds required for an Interplast surgical program. This team went to Labasa, Fiji, in March 2016. The photos and story from this trip enabled me to tell a new story to again enthuse the Rotarians of District 9675 to fundraise for another program.

My next goal was to become a Rotarian Observer on an Interplast surgical program. My application was accepted and I was excited to travel to Tonga with a surgical team in February this year.

The team comprised two plastic surgeons, two anaesthetists, two nurses, a hand therapist, two Rotarian observers and an official photographer. I feel so privileged to have witnessed this team of amazing medical personnel perform the miracle of life-changing surgery for people who would otherwise have no access to this type of surgical care.

Download the full pdf of Rotarian Review here, or keep reading below.

Interplast surgeons prepare to release burns contractures on a patient's hand. Photo: Woodrow Wilson

It was a very rewarding experience to be a part of this team. All the medical personnel made me feel very welcome. I was given tasks such as helping to record notes. I was able to witness all steps of the surgeries up very close. Everyone was very patient and answered all my questions.

I initially became interested in Interplast when my first grandchild, who is now 12 years old, was born with a cleft palate, but she had the great fortune to be born in the USA. Help was readily available for her – the specialist nurse to advise on feeding a baby with a cleft palate; the surgeon to advise that they would operate when she was 10 months old. I was delighted to see in Tonga a three-year-old boy with a cleft palate able to receive this same life-changing surgery that was so readily available for my granddaughter.

The biggest challenge was trying to come to grips with the fact that I am so fortunate that I was born in Australia where we take this medical assistance for granted but the people of Tonga, purely because of where they were born, do not have the same access to medical care.


About 140 people arrived at the assessment clinic when there was only time for 40 surgeries. It was heartwarming to see the surgeons able to treat children with cleft lips or palates, people with burn scar contractures, and a victim of domestic violence who could not move her fingers due to severed tendons.

I gained far more from this experience than I anticipated. It was an honour to witness the surgeries being carried out, and to see the great teamwork between the volunteer team and local staff that is such a necessary part of making the job successful.

It is a wonderful feeling to know that the money that Rotarians donate to Interplast is definitely making a huge difference in the world. I am happy to share this good news story so other Rotarians can see what great works can be accomplished by Interplast with Rotary’s financial assistance.

This article is taken from the latest edition of Rotarian Review, our newsletter for keeping Rotarians across Australia and New Zealand informed about how you are making a difference by supporting Interplast.

You can download and share the full pdf of Rotarian Review from our website here.

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