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Saving Teresa

MARYKE PENMAN
Last updated 09:03 08/11/2012
teresa

KIWI LIFELINE: East Timorese girl Teresa, 8, is here with her father Francisco to have lifesaving heart surgery under the ROMAC programme.

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Volunteers have reached out to a critically ill East Timorese girl who weighs just 15 kilograms, the average weight of a child half her age.

Rotary humanitarian organisation ROMAC has flown Teresa, 8, and her father Francisco to Starship children's hospital where she will have lifesaving heart surgery.

Teresa has lived all her life with blue baby syndrome, a condition normally treated at birth.

She has a chronic lack of energy, stunted growth and severe breathing difficulties to the point she often squats helping to increase the oxygen flow into her lungs.

ROMAC administrator Geoff Pownall says doctors have told him Teresa is unlikely to live past Christmas if her condition is not corrected.

Mr Pownall was first alerted to her situation four years ago by hospital staff in East Timor's capital Dili.

"Back then she weighed just 10 kilos.

"Meeting her for the first time was a shock, her limbs were so thin and she really didn't look in good shape," he says.

Poor development is characteristic of children with blue baby syndrome as they need more calories than usual to compensate for the extra stress on their hearts.

Her father Francisco, a crop farmer, has raised nine children, including Teresa, three of whom have died. Teresa's older sister died of the same condition.

East Coast Bays Rotary Club local projects director Caroline Campbell has been co-ordinating the pastoral care and says adapting to modern life has been a challenge for the pair.

"They come from an isolated village where the only road in or out is impassable at times.

"There is no electricity, they live in basic huts and cook on open fires," she says.

Teresa and her dad arrived in Auckland on October 20 and have since been staying downtown where they are being cared for by a group of Timorese students and East Coast Bays Rotary Club members.

Neither speaks any English and the students act as interpreters, also providing meals and transport.

A surgery date is yet to be confirmed.

As soon as space becomes available Starship surgeons will work free of charge to repair the hole in Teresa's heart and to release the muscle restricting the blood flow into her lungs.

She is expected to make a full recovery in less than two months after her operation, before returning to East Timor.

Ms Campbell says: "Teresa wants nothing more than to go back to school.

"We want to do whatever is needed to make sure she's well enough to live a normal life."

Go to romac.org.nz or ecbrotary.co.nz for more information.

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