Pacemakers in the Pacific – volunteers saving lives
22 May 2023
Being able to help people who might otherwise die is why Tauranga Hospital’s Tracey Cumming and Charmaine Flynn-Hooker give up their own time to volunteer for the organisation Pacific Islands Pacemaker Services (PIPS).
Tracey Cumming (third from the left) and Charmaine Flynn-Hooker (second from the right) during their recent trip to Fiji.
They recently travelled to Fiji and spent ten days there supporting life-saving pacemaker surgeries to the Pacific People who would otherwise die, or be significantly impaired, without one. The PIPS team also provides a service to check the pacemakers of patients who already have one in place.
Charmaine Flynn-Hooker, a Clinical Nurse Co-ordinator for the Cardiac Catheter Laboratory, has been part of the PIPS team since 2011, initially assisting with angiograms as well as inserting pacemakers.
“They’ve said they would have to give me a passport,” she laughs. “I call them my Fiji family.”
Tracey, an Advanced Practice Cardiac Physiologist, has been volunteering for PIPS since 2018. “It is incredible to be able to help in a place where people are dying from ailments when treatment is taken for granted here in New Zealand. Over there, patients who need pacemakers are often hanging on by a thread.”
The team who travels includes doctors, nurses and cardiac physiologists from around New Zealand, all of whom volunteer and donate their time and expertise. As well as working in the theatre, they hold follow-up clinics and provide doctors and nurses there with education sessions.
“It’s great to be able to upskill the hospital staff,” explains Tracey. “They’re like sponges. Staff are now doing the implants, but with what they have – they were making tourniquets with donated gloves. They make do and are saving lives by doing what they can.”
“We simply couldn’t do it without the support of companies such as Medtronic, Capes Medical and Global Medics who have donated thousands of dollars’ worth of medical supplies.”
Being a voluntary organisation, PIPS rely on donation of funds to pay for the costs involved with flights, accommodation and transport. It costs an average of $10,000 to send a team of five volunteers for a week.