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Sixty-Year old Kongop Tapera's Story - one of inspiring stories after the eathquake

Sixty-year old Kongop Tapera’s story is one of guts and a determination to live – one of the many inspiring stories coming out now after the earthquake on 26 February.

Kongop is currently at the Specialist Burns Unit at the Port Moresby General Hospital, after being medevacked on Friday by Oil Search to Port Moresby.

“The real story here is not in the health service, who were performing their usual service, but in the man himself,’’ says Oil Search Senior Medical Officer Dr Michael Carmody.

“As the swelling around his face reduced, all I could see deep in his eyes was the spirit, the determination and the inner strength of the man to survive. I’ve learned something.’’

The story is also a demonstration of partnerships between a number of different organisations that are currently involved in the relief work following the earthquake.

Dr Carmody strongly commended the Community Health Worker at Karinja who worked to help keep Kongop alive for two days while waiting for help. Karinja is a remote health centre in Hela Province and the fantastic, caring Community Health Worker who works there saved and treated a man who really needed the facilities available to a Specialist Burns Unit of a big city hospital.

The Oil Search medical response team that went to pick up Kongo from his Karinja village, were told that his house was damaged and unstable from the earthquake. It is not clear how the fire started.

According to Dr Alben Yamba, who was a member of the rescue team, the Hela Provincial Hospital received a distress call from a health worker in Karinja on Tuesday March 13th that a man had been “burned from head to toe’’ in a fire.

The Hela Provincial Hospital then relayed the message to the Medical Base Command Centre, a command centre set up specifically to respond to medical needs of the surrounding community affected by the earthquake, at Oil Search’s Moro camp. A medevac team was immediately activated and left on a helicopter for Karinja to find the patient. They were met on arrival by a crowd who advised them that the incident had happened at the time of the earthquake but that the affected man was not in the area anymore.

“Despite this, the medevac team and pilot searched at four more locations, landing in someone’s back garden at one stage to find the said patient but all to no avail,’’ Dr Carmody said.

Thinking the call had been a hoax, the medevac team left Karinja to continue retrieving more patients around affected areas of Hela and Southern Highlands Provinces.

The following day, on Wednesday, a second call came in, regarding same patient, Dr Carmody said.

“With the help of the Oil Search Aviation Dispatch team and Cartographer, and most of all local knowledge from a Helicopter Load Master, we found Karinja Health Centre and found our patient in critical condition,’’ said Dr Carmody.

He was picked up quickly on a stretcher and medevacked to Moro clinic where a team was standing by.

“On arrival we could tell his burns were severe, covering more than 35% of his body, second and third degree burns, face so swollen he couldn’t open his eyes, kidneys shutting down, and sepsis developing,’’ Dr Carmody said. “With severe burns these complications are common and need higher levels of treatment.

“The team immediately went to action to continue his resuscitation and by nightfall he had reached some level of stability. However, that night Kongop’s health deteriorated, kidneys shutting down as infection regained some ground in the fight, and Dr Yamba and Nurse Ben Ung worked into the early hours of morning until Kongop improved again.’’

Kongop continued to receive treatment at the Moro clinic on Thursday and his burns redressed. Oil Search are very fortunate to have Sr Maritha Warua working on the team because Sr Warua worked at the Special Burns Unit at PMGH for many years. Her experience and skill was crucial to performing the delicate task of dressing Kongop’s injuries – doing this incorrectly can be extremely painful for a patient and increase the risk of an infection. Kongop was flown to Port Moresby on an Oil Search VIP charter, carrying investors and analysts back to Port Moresby from a field trip.

Kongop was met by St John’s Ambulance off the plane and on the airport tarmac and transferred to the Port Moresby General Hospital Specialist Burns Unit, after being handed over to the good doctors and nurses at PMGH Emergency Dept. His recovery is ongoing. His son who guards his side told Dr Carmody he wants the story of how a man in the Highlands survived a fire, and how he made his way to where he is today.

There are still many hurdles to overcome for Kongop before his quest for survival becomes a quest for recovery, but this great man has already overcome so many, says Dr Carmody.

“Every hurdle a giant, but at each one, a health worker like the one at Karinja, like those at Oil Search Moro Clinic and PMGH, to help him climb.”

Meanwhile, Oil Search is continuing its relief work in the earthquake affected areas – covering Hela, Southern Highlands and parts of Gulf and Southern Highlands Provinces.

Oil Search as at the end of March 20th, has visited a total of 129 villages covering a population of more than 90,000 people.

A total of 75 medical kits have been delivered to Hela and Southern Highlands provinces – 30 and 45 respectively. The Oil Search medical team has treated 583 people as at 20 March, with 29 evacuations undertaken to Port Moresby, Moro, Tari and Mendi.

The company helicopters have delivered more than 128 tonnes of supplies to affected villages, clocking up more than 264 flying hours, and continuing. The company’s Moro airfield, currently the focus point for relief supplies has also surpasses 2000 aircraft landing, both helicopters and fixed wing aircrafts since 27 February.

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