Teenager Paulo Nascimento just wants a normal life. He loves sport, especially soccer — Barcelona star Lionel Messi is his hero — and wants to become an engineer.
He also has a rare, debilitating condition that causes his heart to race like crazy for hours on end, and could prove fatal.
As far as heart operations go, it’s a relatively easy problem to fix — if you have the technology.
But Paulo lives in Timor-Leste, where the healthcare system is primitive and struggling under the weight of some of the highest rates of preventable heart disease in the world.
Paulo is one of a number of lucky patients who have been flown to Australia by the East Timor Hearts Fund to have another chance at a healthy life.
The non-government medical organisation raises funds to give people access to the sort of life-saving medical technology that is readily available in Australia.
“The Timorese are among our closest neighbours and have a special place in the hearts of many Australians, and this is reflected in the extraordinary generosity that people show to our cause,” the fund’s chief executive, Stuart Thomson, said.
It’s the second time Paulo has come to Australia for the tricky operation to fix his broken heart.
“It can be very debilitating,” Barwon Health cardiologist Mark Perrin said.
“Your heartrate can be above 200 beats per minute and, with the particular condition that he has, there is a very small risk of sudden death with it as well.
“There should be one pathway between the back of the heart and the front of the heart that we’re all born with, but he probably has two or three.”
In a delicate operation, cardiologists at University Hospital Geelong passed wires up the main vein from Paulo’s leg and into his heart.
Using 3D technology to build a map of Paulo’s heart, they first located the electrical short circuit and then made a small burn to, hopefully, deactivate the pathway and restore normal heart rhythm.
In his first operation 18 months ago, the pathways were deactivated. But as can sometimes be the case, they weren’t permanently blocked.
This time, hopes are high they’ve got it for good.
“If it is a complete success he will never have to worry about this again, so it’s eminently curable, and we hope that Paulo will just be a normal boy again,” Dr Perrin said.
Western Bulldogs player Lin Jong has a special place in his heart for Paulo.
His own father fled East Timor as a teenager and, after hearing of Paulo’s condition, Jong decided to become an ambassador for the East Timor Hearts Fund.
“I hope to travel there sometime next year to get a better appreciation of how lucky we have it here,” Jong said.
“To hear it from my dad and to think he could still be living there and I could be one of those kids.”