It was 8.30am on Sunday 22 March. MAF pilot Jonathan Lowe was getting ready for church when he got a call from Chief Medical Officer for the National Ambulance Service in Timor-Leste, Dr Nunu Vitar Soares.
Maria, a 39-year-old woman from Suai, was having complications in the late stages of pregnancy and the Ministry of Health needed MAF to transport her to Dili hospital for urgent medical care.
Jonathan responded immediately. He changed into his pilot’s uniform, left his wife Angela and the children to go on to church alone, and headed for the airport. Once at the MAF hangar, Jonathan prepared the aircraft - a GA8 Airvan - and installed a stretcher in case it was needed. Then, with the flight plan submitted and MAF’s agent at Suai alerted, Jonathan was airborne.
When Jonathan landed at Suai 27 minutes later, a large crowd had already started to gather. Many knew Maria and many just wanted to watch the spectacle the arrival of an MAF plane still caused in their remote community. The ambulance soon arrived and Maria, together with her husband, mother and midwife, was transferred to the MAF plane for the flight to Dili.
As Jonathan took to the skies a little later, he reflected that 'this was our 700th patient we have transferred from the districts to Dili since we started in flight operations in Timor-Leste in 2007.'
Monday: 2 more lives saved
MAF's service is in high demand in Timor-Leste and that milestone was quickly surpassed the next day!
Pilot Michael was already having a busy morning when the next medevac request came. He had already flown to Oecusse to collect team members from development agency Caritas. He then flew Water Aid workers to Same. When the medevac call came, he picked up two pregnant women needing urgent hospital attention – one needing a Caesarean and the other was suffering from haemorrhaging.
The emergency nature of the flight meant that the scheduled flights had to be disrupted. 'The ambulance service is working on being able to give us better information on the priority of evacuations,' shares Development Manager Jennifer. This means that flights that can be delayed will be, but those that need to be done as a matter of urgency will be given priority.
We're thankful that those we fly are understanding when their flight plans change. And generally, by the grace of God, everything works out.
As it did on Monday. After collecting and transporting the two pregnant women to Dili, Michael was still able to refuel, load his scheduled passengers, depart Dili for Oecusse and complete his last flight landing in Dili with daylight to spare.
Tuesday: even more lives saved
The following day, Michael's schedule was interrupted again to medevac another pregnant woman, 25-year-old Alexandrina, as well as a newborn baby, 6-day-old Joao from Atauro Island.
The disrupted passengers were very patient and most appreciative when Michael returned to collect them later in the day. They of all people knew the value of the service MAF is providing to remote communities and the desperate need that these communities have for access to good medical care. It was a team of Ministry of Health ambulance service mechanics.