Supporting cardiology care across the Pacific


Researcher and cardiologist at the HRI, Dr Kelly Stanton, is taking her skills across the seas to treat patients in East Timor and beyond for cardiovascular conditions.  

The PhD student was selected to join the 3-month humanitarian mission as one of 26 Australian medical and support personnel who will travel by ship to provide medical services in local communities in East Timor, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. Led by the US Navy, the ship, named the USNS Mercy, brings together medical personnel from Australia, New Zealand, the United States of America, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia.  

"I'm very excited because this is an amazing opportunity. It is a privilege to help people who may not normally have access to general medical care, let alone specialist medical care."

“There’ll be general practitioners, physicians, obstetricians, paediatricians, ophthalmologists, general surgeons and specialist surgeons, as well as a team of nurses and public health officials,” says Kelly. 

The USNS Mercy, which can treat up to 1000 patients, is equipped with hospital-quality equipment and services.

“With 12 operating theatres and CT scanners, it’s pretty much capable of doing everything, if not more, than most hospitals in Australia,” she says.  

Kelly will take a three-month break from her PhD at HRI to complete the mission.

"I just thought it was probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I'll get to do things and see things and work with many doctors and healthcare providers from the host nation and many other countries as part of this mission."

"It's an experience I will never be able to probably get again."

Supervisor Professor David Celermajer was very supportive of Kelly taking up this opportunity and bringing her expertise and experience back to the HRI.  

“Clinically, I’ll get to use my cardiology skills and hopefully extend my skills. In the Pacific I expect there is going to be a lot of rheumatic heart disease, which we don’t see very much in most areas of Australia. Unfortunately, we have a lot of rheumatic heat disease in central Australia in the Indigenous communities and I expect to see a lot of that overseas. 

"As a cardiologist, I hope to work with local cardiologists and local doctors to prevent and enhance the care of patients with cardiac disease in the Pacific."

Kelly has been completing her PhD at the HRI since 2014, looking at the effect of exercise on the heart. "I was an exercise physiologist before I became a cardiologist so I’m particularly interested in exercise but also general health.

And Kelly says she is realistic about the challenges she may face on the ground. "There’s no chance we could do any open heart surgery or bypass surgery or any of those sorts of high end cardiology interventions because most of the communities won’t be able to support it, so that will be difficult. That’s, unfortunately, the reality of healthcare but on the flipside, hopefully we will be able to provide care that they may not have had the opportunity to get.” 

"One of the key focuses of the mission is capability building for disasters in our region. So one of my main focuses as a doctor is to develop relationships with local doctors, local hospitals and the medical officers in the host nations military. We aim to enhance their and our capability to respond to major disasters. We hope to achieve this through knowledge sharing, shared experience and joint planning."


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