Dr. Conal Austin, FRCS Paediatric Cardiothoracic Surgeon and John Simpson MD, FRCP, Paediatric Cardiologist - both originally from Guys and St. Thomas’ Hospitals in London - decided in 2002 that they would like to assist in the development of Cardiology and cardiac surgery for poor young children in Sri Lanka by making annual visits with a team of 14 medics. At first, a patient named Jai Lameer had undergone successful cardiac surgery performed on him by Dr. Conal Austin, the coordinator of the team. Unfortunately Jai passed away in 2011.
But fortunately for the team, Paul Scally, the owner of the Gillingham Football Club in the UK, whom they had known for several years came to their rescue and the charity was started with new drive under a new name : ‘TAKE HEART MERCY MISSION’. The Head of the Mission was Paul Scally himself and the Trustees were Dr. Conal Austin and Dr. John Simpson.
They have been coming on such missions for the past 12 years, and up to date they have performed 200 heart surgeries in Sri Lanka. The day after they arrive they start work early morning and continue working at a stretch for one week with a short lunch break. Surgery goes on from 7.00 am to 12.00 midnight. They are such a dedicated and united team. I personally became involved with this mission as I came to know Dr. Austin and Dr. Simpson through the Association of British Residents of which I am a member, having lived and worked in London as a Higher Executive officer in the British Department of Trade and Industry.
Since then during the past five years, I have been going to the Karapitiya Hospital in Galle with a view to support them and give them an annual donation and take gift packs for all the children treated by them. I stay one night at a hotel in Galle and have fellowship together with the team and discuss plans for the future regarding how we, as Sri Lankans, could help them in their mission. After all, their help to Sri Lanka has been magnanimous, and we Sri Lankans should be humbled by what they do and appreciate their dedicated work and help them in whatever way we could. They do not only perform heart scanning and surgeries, but also manage a post-surgery ICU until the treated children have recovered and are stable enough to be discharged to the general wards. They have also donated Cardiac Scanning and theatre equipment worth millions of rupees to the Karapitiya Hospital throughout the years of their annual visits. They also fund the maintenance and operational costs of the theatre and cardiological equipment, educational and training programmes in cardiac surgery and after-care. All the surgeries they performed had complications.
"Their help to Sri Lanka has been magnanimous, and we Sri Lankans should be humbled by what they do and appreciate their dedicated work and help them in whatever way we could."
Some years ago former British PM Tony Blair awarded Dr. Austin for the best charity work he did in Asia. This award had been made at a dinner to which a Sri Lankan child whom Dr. Austin treated was invited with her parents. They were flown over for the function by the kind courtesy of ‘Mercy Mission’.
In addition to this, the chairman Paul Scally, owner of the Gillingham Football Club had in the previous two years brought three male Football coaches and a female Football coach, and they coached hundreds of schoolchildren who lived in Galle and the suburbs. This year, I personally witnessed them coaching at St. Aloysious’ Soccer Grounds in Galle and donating hundreds of Soccer boots, shoes, T-Shirts, caps and other sporting equipment to children. What a generosity on their part!
At present funds for their work are collected in the UK through fund-raising. In November last year, Paul Scally organized such a ball attended by 500 VVIPs and all the profits from the Ball were pumped into the ‘Take Heart Mercy Mission’ fund.
I look forward to meeting Paul Scally, Dr. Conal Austin and Dr. John Simpson during my annual visit to London this autumn and hope to discuss about how, we, Sri Lankans could help this mission. One way of helping is to have a support system here where we could assist by paying for accommodation for the poor mothers of the children, who come from remote areas until their children would recover and leave the hospital. For instance, last year Dr. Aushin told me that while the doctors were out for a late night walk, they saw a mother of a child who was operated sitting by the roadside and learnt that she had no place to stay until her child could leave the hospital. So the doctors helped her with temporary accommodation and meals. Besides this, helping them to buy the after-care drugs and nourishing food for the children is another way that we could help them.
The Mercy Missions website is. www.takeheartmercymission.com
Personally I am very happy to support the ‘Take Heart Mercy Mission’ in my small way, especially as my great grandfather Charles Henry de Soysa was amongst the donors to hospitals in London. St. Thomas and Guys Hospital were two of the institutions to which he had made donations. Hence, I am very honoured to associate with a hospital which my ancestor helped.