Vanuatu girl receives life-saving surgery in Melbourne

FOUR-YEAR-OLD Failyne Terry was living with a life-threatening condition in Vanuatu, until a stranger walking by ultimately brought her into the care of an Australian hospital. Diane Leow shares the little girl’s inspiring story.

Failyne Terry, a beautiful, courageous little girl. Photo: Diane Leow

Meet Failyne Terry, a boisterous four-year-old girl who pays attention to what most adults don’t. She defies every notion of shyness by walking up to complete strangers, giving them the gift of a beaming smile, and sometimes blowing them a kiss.

But before this year, what most people noticed was not Failyne’s vivacious nature but a facial disfigurement caused by a life-threatening medical condition called hydrocephalus. The condition led to a build-up of fluid in Failyne’s brain, leaving her head swollen and at risk of potentially fatal meningitis. It also caused much discomfort for Failyne, who would often cry due to the pain.

Failyne’s family was shunned because of her appearance as well. Neighbours and loved ones stayed away, believing her condition was contagious. Patrick, her father, sometimes found it difficult to pick her up as he felt responsible for her condition. But Mepline, Failyne’s mother, took all of in her stride. She continued to care for Failyne even though there was no treatment available in Vanuatu.

Failyne and Mepline at their first Rotary meeting, prior to meeting with the doctors. Photo: Diane Leow

It has been said that life turns on a dime, and that may be true for Failyne and her family. The Vanuatu Prevention of Blindness Project has five workers on the island of Santo operating an eye clinic. One day, a worker named Gibson was on his way home when he saw Failyne playing outside her home. He realised the Rotary Oceania Medical Aid for Children (ROMAC) had once helped a little boy with a similar condition, and something could be done for Failyne too.

After a Skype consultation between Failyne’s family and Project Coordinator Don MacRaild, ROMAC decided to begin the paperwork process to bring Failyne and her mother to Australia. But there were other hurdles to overcome. Obtaining passports and visas was difficult, for one. The team also understood travel could possibly put unnecessary stress on both mother and daughter as they had never travelled beyond Santo before. It would also be their first time on a plane.

It was decided both of them would travel to Vila, another island, with a team of optometrists from the Vanuatu Prevention of Blindness Project before flying into Brisbane and then transferring to a domestic flight bound for Melbourne.

Mepline with the team from the Vanuatu Prevention of Blindness Project. Photo: Diane Leow

Once in Melbourne, Monash Hospital’s Head of Neurosurgery Dr Andrew Danks reviewed Failyne’s CT scans and determined her course of treatment, which involved many surgeries, as well as reconstruction surgery for her face. It looked like a long road ahead.

Throughout the entire process, Mepline’s faith in the Australian medical system, the people around her, as well as God has sustained her through the last few months. After the risks of each surgery was explained to her, she confidently signed off on the dotted line, saying, “I am not worried. I have complete faith, I know the Big Man upstairs will guide the gifted hands of healing of these wonderful Doctors and Surgeons and Nurses who will operate and care for my little girl.”

Carla, who was part of the Vanuatu Prevention of Blindness Project team, remembers Mepline’s trust in her right from the get-go. Upon their arrival at Brisbane airport, the entire team rushed to board a bus. Carrying Failyne in her arms, Carla sprinted through the airport with the entire team – Mepline in tow.

I actually thought: I’ve just taken this child and her mother doesn’t know me; we’ve only known each other for a number of hours, just the faith and trust she had in us… It was just amazing.”

Alan and Dianne Samuel, who are members of the Rotary Club of Glen Eira, have been following Failyne’s progress and taking care of both Mepline and Failyne since their arrival in Melbourne. They have since been lovingly adopted as Failyne’s “Abu and Bubu” (grandfather and grandmother), and Mepline’s “dad and mum”.

“How can you not love this little person?” Dianne asks. “We call her our angel.”

Failyne and Mepline with those who have been part of their journey. Photo: Diane Leow

Failyne has come a long way since her arrival in Australia in May. From adjusting to the Australian climate to braving countless painful surgeries, she has been an absolute trooper. If anything, her bubbly nature has become more evident.

Alan even jokeswith Dr Danks, “She was a normal child until you got to her!” causingeveryone around to erupt in laughter.

I feel very happy because when I stay in Vanuatu, I didn’t know how the future will be,” she says with a huge smile.

Failyne now has a wonderful life ahead of her. She is returning home with countless teddy bears, precious gifts, and a lot of memories in Australia. She also has a newfound interest in photography. A digital camera is her newest toy, and she runs around fearlessly capturing smiles and moments that may be otherwise missed. Perhaps one day she will look back at the photos fondly.

Best of all, she no longer has to worry about pain in her face. She is now free to live a normal life – and hopefully people will be touched by her huge smile and heart.

While Mepline is looking forward to returning home, she will definitely miss Australia.

“I’m so sad because I’m leaving all the love and the beautiful people; the friendly people here in Australia. I love Rotary because through Rotary and ROMAC Failyne had a future and a wonderful future life. Without Rotary, I don’t know…” Mepline trails off before regaining her composure.

Failyne is due to be back in five years for a consultation with the plastic surgeons. Until then, both mother and daughter have returned home safely, where friends and family were delighted to receive them.

A very happy Mepline after Failyne has been given the “all-clear”. Photo: Diane Leow

To find out more about your local Rotary Club, please click here. If you would like to read more on ROMAC and find out how to help, please visit their website.

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