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A great survival story of 1st Solomon Islander to successfully undergo heart surgery in Fiji

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Dr Maryanne Kora'ai and Annie Pajata and her daughter.
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A young Solomon Islands girl is the first to successfully undergo heart surgery in Fiji and her mother could not hide her joy in seeing her little girl recovering and enjoying her new life after undergoing surgery in Fiji. Her mother encountered many chances on the way but she now rejoices in seeing her bundle of joy kicking on in her new life. Below is her story and that of her one year and seven month old girl.

My name is Annie Pajata. I am from Choiseul Province. I am a dental officer working at the Dental Department, National Referral Hospital. My little girl was the 1st Solomon Islander to have heart surgery done in Fiji and we would like to share our story.

Little Emmalyn Mason (now 1 year 7 months) was diagnosed with congenital heart disease when she was 8 months old in April 2022. When admitted at the Children’s Ward, National Referral Hospital; the Doctors said that her heart condition needs surgery; and this can only be done in Australia or India.

Despite being a dentist, I and my family cannot afford going to either Australia or India as mentioned by the doctors.

However, we were so privileged to have Dr Maryanne Kora’ai, who is our very own medical doctor; a Pediatrician working in Fiji who came over in October 2022 and did heart screening at the National Referral Hospital. There were quite a number of children with cardiac (heart) conditions screened and my little Emmalyn was one of them.

During the screening, Dr Maryanne confirmed that she would definitely need surgery; and this can be done in Fiji. Fiji usually have visiting teams from Australia, New Zealand, USA and India; and the good thing is that TREATMENT IS FREE. All you need is Airfares, Accommodation, Food and your pocket money. TEARS OF JOY filled my eyes, and I just can’t wait for that moment for my little girl to have her surgery done as this will only be our golden chance.

During our reviews at the Children Ward, I always ask her doctor if they have received any emails from Dr Maryanne but they would say that they haven’t received anything from her end.

In December 2022, before the Christmas season; my Emmalyn had shortness of breath and we were admitted 5 days at the Children’s Ward. It was after this admission that I feel that my little girl’s medical condition has changed and anything can happen anytime as this is the first time for her to have this shortness of breath after being diagnosed in April 2022.

January 2023 came and I have a strong feeling that I should contact Dr Maryanne myself. We were not friends on Facebook but I just sent her a message asking about the visiting cardiac (heart) teams to Fiji. To my surprise, she immediately replied; saying that a cardiac (heart) team is currently here, and if you are ready, you can come now! However, our passports were not ready at that time. And she further mentioned that another team will come in February 2023; you just let me know if you’re coming.

Dr Maryanne then contacted our local doctor at the Children’s Ward who looked after children with heart conditions. The doctor was told that I have to make a good decision before travelling to Fiji. This is because we have to go through another heart screening when arrived in Fiji, but this time with the visiting team’s cardiologist, and if she (Emmalyn) is fit for surgery we will stay on (in Fiji) waiting for the surgical team. But if her condition is already late for surgery, then there’s nothing much to do but to return home. However, all along, myself, my family members, friends, and church fellowship groups have been praying for my little girl so I have faith that my little girl will definitely have her surgery when we go to Fiji. And YES, we made it! She was screened by the cardiologist and she is fit to have her heart fixed.

In Fiji, it is quite hard to find a house to rent for short-stay; so, we were accommodated at a hotel. However, days passed and we were so blessed to have my friend and room-mate Ana Senikau whom we studied together in FSM (Fiji School of Medicine) 16 years ago who arranged for us to go and stay with her elder brother and family as she has already migrated to USA last year. Her mother, brother and sister in-law, and their children were there for us. Having them was a blessing for me and my little girl.

When admitted at the hospital, we were told that Emmalyn would need blood donors for her surgery. I contacted 2 of my friend colleagues who went back for further studies in FNU; Dr Grace Mamupio and Dr Mattew Bonie. They were busy at that time so they requested the Solomons Medical students studying in FNU if they can donate blood for my little girl. Two (2) boys offered to give their blood for my little girl. They were John Devine Faka from Tikopia and Brenco Choko, from Western and part Choiseul. I am indeed very grateful for these two (2) boys.

My little Emmalyn was then surgically treated by one of the world’s best cardiologist, Dr Kirsten Finucane from New Zealand (Hearts 4 Kids Team) at the Sri Sathya Sai Sanjeevani Children’s Heart Hospital in Suva, Fiji. This hospital was owned and built by NGO Sai Prema Foundation, but working in collaboration with the Government so they have support staff from the Government. The visiting teams are organized to come to Fiji by Sai Prema Foundation as well; and the Ministry of Health gives support where they can.

The hospital is very nice and clean with everything provided; including 3 meals per day with tea times in between the meals. The staff are friendly and easy to approach; and we are well looked after during our stay in the hospital.

Now my little girl is well, progressing on her healing and recovery, gaining weight and catching on her milestone. This is one of the memorable events in life that I went through with my little princess Emmalyn Mason.

I want to acknowledge those of you who supported us here in Honiara;

  • The Doctors and hardworking nurses at the Children’s Ward, National Referral Hospital;

  • The Director of Immigration and your hardworking staff in processing our passports after hours;

  • The Director Dental Services, Dr Ellison Vane and my fellow colleagues at NRH Dental and Mataniko Dental for the financial support and valuable contributions;

  • Harry Kuma; Minster of Finance and Treasury and our MP for North West Choiseul for your financial support;

  • Friends and family members for the contributions and support in raising funds.

Not forgetting those who have helped us in Fiji;

  • The Solomon Islands Medical Student Association (SIMSA Family); Dr Grace Mamupio Alepio, Dr Mattew Bonie; John Devine Faka and Brenco Choko; both Year 2 students studying medicine,

  • Maryanne Kora’ai for staying in contact with us, and the love, care and concern rendered to us;

  • The Fijian Family who provided accommodation, shelter, food, love, care, friendship and fellowship. Vinaka vaka levu!

Above all I thank God for the strength, courage and confidence in all that my family and I went through for my little Emmalyn. “With God everything is Possible!”

Therefore, if you are a parent, guardian or grandparent of a child with heart condition; FIJI offers Heart Surgery for FREE, which is much cheaper and affordable to go to. If you would like to know more or have any questions about going to this Children’s Heart Hospital in Fiji, do not hesitate to call me on 23659 (Dental Department, NRH).

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