In remarkable rare surgery, four leading specialists from St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital combined to perform a pro bono operation to remove a life-threatening tumour from behind Vebui Bala’s right eye.
Vebui, 21, comes from a small village in Central Province, Papua New Guinea. His local community, including the United Church in Gaba Gaba, raised funds to send him to Brisbane for the surgery after he was unable to receive the necessary medical treatment in his home country.
His uncle, John Ingram, from the Peachester, near Queensland’s Glasshouse Mountains said: “Vebui came to Australia in June for treatment after an ophthalmologist in PNG referred him to Brisbane ophthalmologist, Professor Tim Sullivan."
Professor Sullivan approached St Andrew’s and the other doctors in the medical team to operate on Vebui at no charge.“Without the generosity and compassion of Professor Sullivan, the other doctors and St Andrew’s who covered his stay in hospital and operating theatre costs, Vebui would have had a very short future,” Mr Ingram said. “We are very grateful to all concerned.”
Uniting Care Health's Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Christian Rowan said St Andrew’s and UnitingCare Health was committed to continuing to assist where possible with such charitable cases. “We are delighted with the outcome of the surgery and it reflects on the excellent medical team who managed Vebui’s treatment,” Dr Rowan said. Professor Sullivan said seven-hour surgery on October 16 was conducted by neurosurgeon Dr Frank Tomlinson, ear nose and throat surgeon Dr Andrew Lomas, himself, with anaesthetist Dr Richard Pendleton, to remove a “cystic schwannoma”. “There are only a few cases like this that have been described in world literature,” he said.
The tumour had grown through Vebui’s eye socket, into his cranial cavity, sinus, and
wrapped itself around brain structures including the carotid artery, some cranial
nerves, and part of the brain stem.
“It was a very complicated lesion to try to treat and remove – it has been completely
removed and he has a very good prognosis for the future,” Professor Sullivan said.
MRI scans integrated with the hospital’s “Stealth Surgical Navigation System”
(providing interactive and surgical navigation) pinpointed the tumour with utmost
Vebui spent a few days in St Andrew’s Intensive Care Unit and has made an
excellent recovery. He was discharged on October 30.
Mr Ingram said: “The elderly congregation at Glasshouse Country Uniting Church
where we attend and where Vebui has attended since he came to Australia, have
also been very supportive and generous in unsolicited donations to cover some of
his medical costs.”
Vebui will spend the next few months recovering with his uncle and aunt in
Peachester before he returns to PNG later this year.