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Fr Mike and Kate a Lively Discussion

August 15, 2016

Kate first came to us in 2002. One of our little guys (Dutch Michael) was dying and I was headed to the U.S. the next day. Nurses at Wattana private hospital had kicked Dutch Michael out that afternoon. I explained to Kate and Crystal (a Canadian girl studying nursing) that if Dutch Michael came out of his coma, they would have to start I.V. once more. Kate said quietly that she never had given I.V. to a child before. I asked sarcastically just what the hell type of nurse she was. Palliative, answered Kate. From that moment, Kate turned into a trail blazer, and single handedly turned our whole program around. We have ARV medicine today for adults and kids, thanks to Kate. I never asked her what type of nurse she was, ever since. She is and absolutely fantastic human being and a superlative nurse. And she has a lovely personality and a sense of humor. Kate is back for a visit (March 2006) and I asked her if she would answer some questions for us, for our web site.

 

1. ARE YOU PROUD OF THE PROGRESS MADE AT SARNELLI HOUSE, COMPARING IT TO YOUR FIRST TRIP HERE?

Words just about fail me (but I will try and find some …) when I think of the progress made at Sarnelli House since 2002 -  it has surpassed  my expectations. When I first got here, the children were not on treatment for their HIV/AIDS,  and it seemed the general impression was that they would die soon and so there was not too many plans for the future. The children were not going to the local government hospital as they did not treat children with AIDS. Some of the children at Sarnelli were  so sick, and in my first weeks 2 children died which was incredibly sad.  However, a great change has come about with the commencement of the antiretroviral (ARV) medicines. It is with great joy that I now see healthy children going to school and enjoying life. The staff here have taken on the care of the children with regards to their medicine in such a positive way. The medicines absolutely must be given twice a day for the rest of the children’s lives. It was tough in the beginning trying to get kids to swallow awful tasting syrup and large numbers of tablets at 5.30 in the morning.  There were so many excuses for not wanting the medicine and I saw some pretty crafty ways of getting out of medicine taking. One little boy refused even in the face of threats of sleeping in the cemetery by himself, and only agreed when offered money. Others vomited the medicine straight up again and had to have more 30 minutes later.  Now the kids know themselves when it is 5.30 and line up to take the medicines -  no questions asked   it’s just a part of life. The staff here continue  to do a marvelous job of dishing out some 100 or more  tablets and drawing up 150  200 syringes full of liquid medicine twice a day, all ready for the children to take at 5.30 am and 5.30 pm. They also are taking great pride in hospital visits and follow up of the children to the doctors in Nongkhai if any of the children are sick. So I feel very proud of what was started when I was here for those 15months, and sometimes can’t quite believe that it happened, as at the time it seemed such a task and I felt totally inadequate for it, but the fruits can now be seen in the faces of the children. 

 

2. YOU ALSO HELPED SET UP OUR OUTREACH PROGRAM. WHAT DIFFERENCES ARE THERE IN WORK YOU SEE TODAY, IN COMPARISON TO WORK YOU BEGAN 4 YEARS AGO?

The outreach program has also expanded. The staff do a wonderful job of visiting adults in the villages that have HIV/AIDS mainly young women and men. It seems to me that they get so much support from knowing that people care about them and take the time to visit them. There is also the clinic that Fr Shea runs at Viengkhuk where adults come in for medicines such as vitamins and are treated for opportunistic infections. The outreach program also directs the adults to be able to access the local hospital for CD4 tests and to start their antiretroviral medicines. The outreach program gives these vulnerable people a voice in knowing how to get treatment and support for each other as they face the difficult times ahead.

3.  YOU HAD A SPECIAL LITTLE BUDDY IN MISS PAT. SHE WAS A PAINFULLY SHY LITTLE THING, AND LATCHED ON TO YOU WHEN YOU FIRST MET HER. ARE YOU SATISFIED WITH HER PROGRESS?

Miss Pat came to Sarnelli when she was 2 ฝ years old. She was short and plump and very quiet. It is always hard for the children when they first come to Sarnelli to be faced with living with a whole group of children and they struggle not to be overwhelmed with new routines and loneliness even in the face of much activity. Pat developed chicken pox very early in her stay so she had to be isolated for a time from the other children to prevent it racing through some very sick kids with awful results. When the children go to hospital or are isolated there is always a staff member with them 24 hours a day. So I stayed with Pat  I quickly discovered she was bright and funny. I had found  a Dr Suess book and we were going through it one night, I only knew the Thai word for fish so our reading revolved around finding the fish. She was beside herself with happiness at finding the fish and was shouting out the word and laughing so much the staff came downstairs because they thought something was really wrong as she was so loud and noisy. We became a twosome after that, and in retrospect that probably wasn’t such a good idea as I would eventually have to leave. But I underestimated the resilience of Miss Pat. She gradually came out of her shell and I knew she was happy when she skipped around the place. It was traumatic for me to leave her, and I think she felt it too  the other kids and staff teased her that I was her Mum, so I am sure it was all so confusing. A couple of days before I left she said “Don’t go I love you”.  It broke my heart not to be able to explain why I had to go home. How ever this is my third visit back and Miss Pat is thriving. She is loud, bossy goes to school and is gorgeous. She likes to own me when ever I come back, but she knows that her family is here and this is her home. She has so many mothers in the staff that care for her daily that I am content to see her happy.

 

4.  YOU HAVE A WONDERFUL MOTHER NAMED BERNADETTE. PLEASE TELL READERS HOW SHE HELPED FUND HER DAUGHTER’S WORK.

 Mum was a great support back home for me. We  really missed each other and I knew a part of her heart was here with me and the children. After the first few months here and after I wrote back about Michael’s death and had got to know the children well, she decided to do some fundraising for the children of Sarnelli. She asked her parish priest back in Terrigal if she could speak after mass about Sarnelli House. She said she was very nervous as she had not spoken in public before, but felt that more people need to know about Fr Shea’s struggle to provide for his children. She recounted the death of Michael and the need to start the children on their ARV drugs, and the response from the parish was wonderful. She has now organized an annual fundraiser in the parish by way of a morning tea and selling crafts that she and her friends make throughout the year. Without Mum’s love and support it would have been more difficult for me personally. To know that there were family and friends back home supporting the work here with prayers, thoughts, gifts and money for Sarnelli enables volunteers and  staff  to continue their work of caring for the children.

 

5.  NO SYSTEM IS PERFECT. WHAT SUGGESTIONS DO YOU HAVE FOR FATHER MIKE AND HIS STAFF?

I agree no system is perfect and especially an institution like an orphanage is going to find it difficult to meet all the individual needs of a child in its care. I have seen many positive changes since I first came here in the care of the children. The number of staff have increased as the number of children have increased. The children’s sleeping arrangements have been expanded and the boys and girls have separate dormitories. Their play time is more free and less regimented, they have a lot space to ride bicycles, play under the trees and run around. As new staff and volunteers come they bring with them their own skills and talents which change the working environment as well. The staff are dedicated to the children and this is obvious in their care, they take pride in what they are doing and again this can only be a good thing. I find it difficult to suggest changes as a volunteer and one who does not know the language or Thai culture well, and I have learnt that is isn’t about coming in and changing things the way you think they should be changed, but its about giving people the skills and the confidence to make the changes themselves.

 

6.HERE AT SARNELLI, YOU HAVE THE STATUS OF A ROCK STAR. WHAT ARE YOU DOING THESE DAYS, AND IS THEIR ANY COMPARISON TO THE WORK YOU DO IN AUSTRALIA AND THE WORK YOU DID AT SARNELLI 3-4 YEARS AGO?

I don’t know about the rock star status!? But whenever I come back to visit the children I feel that I am welcomed and that I have come home. I am still nursing in Palliative Care at a large teaching hospital in Sydney Australia. However there are changes ahead. On reflection I think my time in Thailand has allowed me to view the needs of vulnerable people, not in a despairing way that the problem is too big to solve but in a way that even to witness and to help in the most basic of ways can achieve results. I can never complain about the health care in the country I live, after seeing the healthcare system in a developing country. I have seen the need for people with time and skills to be able to contribute to the lives of those who do not even have  their basic needs met eg health needs, and I have seen and felt the great rewards that come from this work. A great sense of humility, and an openness to new experiences and cultures is part of it, and for me personally a wonderful sense of unconditional love that I received from the children. I have also learnt so much about myself and another culture from the staff and children.  So,  I have been accepted to work for the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC), and I will leave my work in Palliative Care.  The ICRC work in areas of conflict around the world so I am hoping to be posted to Africa somewhere. I will of course continue to keep in close contact with Sarnelli House and the wonderful work of Fr Shea and his staff, as everyone here is close to my heart.   

 

7. HAVE YOU FORGIVEN FR. MIKE FOR HIS SARCASM 4 YEARS AGO?

No …I haven’t forgiven or forgotten!!! And I still can’t put an IV in! I felt the same as he did those 4 years ago  what was I doing here … but it seems that something good came from that year and we can’t escape that fact, when we look at those noisy, laughing, demanding, pestering little runts (as Fr Shea would say).  PS. …nothing to forgive…

Thank you very much, Kate!

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