Jasmine Puk is working as a Flight Programmer at MAF Customer and Operations Centre at Mt Hagen. On a day to day basis, she’s dealing with all types of booking requests both internally and externally, attending to customers queries, receiving medevac requests, and then helps to coordinate to evacuate patients. Recently, she had the opportunity to come along such a medevac flight. Below, Jasmine shares about the flight, the community, and the reason behind the medevac on a very personal level.

I used to coordinate medevac flights, but I had never flown on a medevac flight until April 30th at around 1:45 pm when I was asked to accompany the pilot to do a medevac. 

The patient was a young woman at Pyarulama. The village of Pyarulama is 48 nautical miles (nm) from Mt Hagen and 21 nm (approximately 10 min) east of Kompiam. The previous night, both of the woman’s arms had been chopped as a result of domestic violence. She was losing a lot of blood and became unconscious three times.

The call for help

The medevac call came at around 11:27am and after several phone calls at the operations centre we decided to launch an aircraft. Looking at the available resources, we had an aircraft, but we didn’t have a pilot available to do the flight. We were looking at options and finally called Mathias Glass, MAF-PNG’s Safety Manager but also a pilot. 

He was preparing for a safety meeting an hour from when we made the call.

Caller: “Mathias, we have a medevac patient at Pyarulama who needs to be airlifted to Kompiam for further medical assistance. Would you be able to do that flight?”

Operations staff knew that he had an upcoming meeting but proceeded to ask him. 

MEDEVAC means a life or death situation and for MAF it takes a higher priority.

Mathias: “I have a meeting coming up, but it is okay; I can assign someone to conduct the meeting. Give me 20 minutes to collect my pilot bag from home.”

Fast forward 20 minutes and the pilot was on site and the aircraft was all set with the help of the dedicated and hardworking MAF staff. 

We left Mt Hagen at around 1:45pm and flew for 20 mins to Pyarulama. The weather was beautiful, and it was a smooth flight. As we were descending into the circuit, I could see people running in from all directions towards the parking bay at the sound of the aircraft. The view itself was heart-warming as I observed people running to see the plane. 

Pyarulama is a remote community in Enga Province. It is surrounded by stiff, rugged terrain with mountains and fast flowing rivers. The people’s only means of transportation is by air. 

Arriving at Pyarulama

As expected, upon arrival, the edges of the parking bay were filled with the smiling faces of beautiful people.

The woman was very weak, so they had to carry her to the airstrip. Mathias worked on his paperwork while the locals placed the patient on the stretcher.

As I was standing there, one of the villagers approached me and told me in Tok Pisin; 

“MAF em i trevel blo mipla, mipla no gat narapela rot blo trevel, wanpla rot tasol mipla save trevel em tru long MAF. Ol narapla balus tu save kam na go tasol ol save tok charter na long charterim balus mipla no gat displa kain moni ol bilong chaterim balus.” 

(MAF is our lifeline, we don’t have another means of travel, there’s only the one and only option to travel for us with is MAF. There are other aircraft landing here, but they only do charter, but we don’t have that much money to afford these charter rates.) 

I stood there nodding in agreement under my mask. He proceeded on and told me 

“Ol lain sanap long sait stap em ol lukim balus kam na ol hamamas na ron i kam” (When the people who are now standing at the side of the airstrip did see the airplane on approach they rejoiced and started running towards it.) and I could confirm that because of their smiling faces. At that moment, I truly confess that the small, white, red, and blue striped bird is the only hope for my unreached people. 

Leaving for Kompiam hospital

With the help of the local people we managed to get the woman onto the stretcher and into the plane with one guardian. Mathias completed his paperwork and we were back into the plane again ready to depart for Kompiam. 

Personal reflections

Looking back from the co-pilot’s seat I saw the woman lying there all strapped in; she was weak and from that view she looked almost lifeless to me. My heart ached badly, I just can’t imagine the pain she endured and the thoughts going on in her mind. Seeing someone the same age as my younger sister or 3 years younger than me lying unconscious is a whole new pain. With Pyarulama being a remote community, I sense that she thought she had no hope and might die in the next three or four hours, based on the fact that she had lost a lot of blood. If I was her, I would think the same as it is very difficult for people to carry a patient on a stretcher and walk miles through the rugged terrain and cross fast-flowing rivers.

To erase those thoughts, I forced a fake smile to the guardian of the patient as we taxied. For a woman or girl to lose a hand in such a remote place would mean her household going without food on their table; if she had children then they would not have money for school fees and other basic needs. The only form of employment at such a place is subsistence farming. I can only imagine that she must have felt rays of hope when she heard the roaring engine of the aircraft.

We were airborne for Kompiam and Mathias told me the flight time would be 12min. We were two minutes away from our destination and there were heavy showers of rain falling. Visibility was very poor; I could not see the ridgelines or the nearest mountain. To be honest, I was panicking but I made a mental note not to make it obvious. The mountains were some hundred feet below and I was trying to get a clear view of what was ahead, but rain blocked the way. It was truly a time of FAITH over FEAR for me. Mathias, being Mathias the experienced pilot, flew the plane smoothly through the heavy showers and we landed safely at Kompiam. 

We made a short turnaround at Kompiam because the rain was about to close-in in the next few minutes. In the aircraft I lifted the stretcher with the woman and passed it on to the agent and Mathias who were already standing in the rain. They took her and placed her in the ambulance car which was parked nearby.

Ten minutes passed and we were back again in the air for Mt Hagen. Once we had landed, I thanked Mathias for doing the medevac flight. It was truly lifesaving and a relief for the Pyarulama community. The 1-hour flight was worth saving a life. 

Thank you MAF!

I like to take the opportunity to thank all the MAF families nationwide for their tireless commitment and efforts in serving unfortunate isolated Papua New Guineans. Special thanks to the MAF pilots and the MAF expat families who have left the comfort of their homes to serve my people.

”MAF is still our main lifeline connection and continues to service the community through medevacs, bringing in medical supplies, taking out coffee, etc.”

These are the words of Judy Young, a missionary, after her fourth return to Papua New Guinea to serve the people of Owena through a new missionary training school.

Owena is a village situated around a steep airstrip on a mountain range in the Eastern Highlands of PNG with no road access. The people often walk between one and one and a half days to the nearest road and catch a minibus from there to Goroka, a ride of about four hours.

50 years of calling to serve in PNG
The Young family came to PNG for the first time in January 1972 and stayed for ten years. Back then there was no airstrip at Owena and the Youngs either hiked six hours over the mountain from the nearest airstrip or, on occasion, came in by helicopter.

After being in the United States for four years they came back to PNG for another period of ten years before they went home in 1996 because of serious health problems in their family.

In 2008 they came back a third time for another seven years.
”When we returned to the US near the end of 2015, we did believe that we would not return to PNG”, she says.

But in 2017 Lewis went back to Owena for a visit to challenge the Owena believers to take the gospel to other places. He got some positive responses to that ministry, but the people wanted someone to train them for that work.

”When Lewis returned home from the meetings, we began to pray together for the Lord to raise up a young couple or family to come and serve in Owena in our place”.

Meanwhile, the Lord was working in Lewis’s heart about coming back to PNG to help train those who had a burden for reaching other areas with the gospel.

Judy and Lewis Young returned to Owena in January 2019. It was not until they started settling in that they realized that there were some serious problems within the local church they attended and where they planned to start the training. Despite the challenges, they continued to make preparations for a training program while at the same time addressing the problems in the church.

Prayers for the troubled youth
Education in Owena is also still a challenge. During Judy and Lewis’ absence, the community school had added grades seven and eight, but when the schools closed due to Covid-19 and the government measures were put in place, teachers left the village and went back to their own homes since there was nothing for them to do there.

When school didn’t resume and the teachers did not come back, older students became idle and began to vandalize school property, and many turned to chewing buai, smoking marijuana, gambling, stealing and fighting.

”We are deeply concerned for the spiritual welfare of these youth and have been asking God to open a door for us to be able to minister to them”, says Judy.

Health challenges met with hope through MAF
Two of Owena’s own young people completed training at nursing schools and are now back in their own village serving their people in the clinic. Owena now has a number of medical workers; but much of the time, there is an insufficient supply of medicines and funds for paying the workers.
” MAF is the main lifeline connection and continues to service the community through medevacs and bringing in medical supplies”, says Judy.

MAF – more than just an air service provider
When MAF had to shut down several airstrips due to Covid and to re-survey airstrips, the Owena airstrip was one of those prioritized for reopening because of the long-lasting relationship with the missionary couple to benefit their work.

As Owena is one of the more challenging airstrips to land at with a big slope, pilots need certain in-country experience and special training to land there. However, it was on MAF’s radar to continuously train more pilots to be able to land on that challenging airstrip.

”One day when we were under a lot of pressure from the church we just separated from, pilot Brad Venter took time to come down to the house and lend a listening ear and also pray with us. We appreciated that so much and also appreciate all the MAF Goroka staff taking time to pray for us when they meet together for prayer.”

Judy and Lewis had to leave their original local church due to the challenges and today the training program, “Soldiers of Christ Missionary School”, is under the authority of Liberty Baptist Church in Owena.

”It is hard to express our thanks to MAF for giving us priority when they closed all the airstrips for re-survey; and even though there were some questions about our airstrip meeting the new regulations, we are grateful for MAF International allowing our airstrip to remain open for our benefit.”

Strategic Partnerships to Provide Better Health Care for Remote Communities
Story by Mandy Glass. Photos by Dr Rebecca Williams, Dr Simon Ganal

PART 3: Two flights, two different locations, two boys, two medical emergencies

A boy with severe fractures
Do you remember the recent report about the Malaumanda Health Patrol?
After the weekend, our MAF aircraft returned to Malaumanda to collect some of the team’s equipment they had left behind due to weight limitations. At the same time, the pilots were able to pick up Simon*, a young boy, about 16 or 17 years old, who had fallen from a tree resulting in severe fractures.
“I was just thinking how fortunate for them that we had left our cargo behind,” shared Dr Rebecca Williams, Medical Superintendent of Enga Baptist Health Services, “and that we had been delayed an extra day in Malaumanda especially with no way for them to communicate with the radio being down. Most likely, if the young man had been left for some weeks, he would have developed sepsis and died. He had severe fractures of his hip and his heel bone, and a dislocated elbow. He had lost a lot of blood and his haemoglobin level was far below normal. It was very fortunate he didn’t puncture his lung or have any injuries to his abdomen.”
“He had the fall on Thursday afternoon and had to wait the whole weekend for the plane. His wound was quite offensive and dirty. We took him into the theatre the same day to sort out his fractures, wash out his wound, and reduce the elbow dislocation. We were also able to give him 1 unit of blood. He will most likely be here for several months.”

A boy with an acute appendicitis

Do you also remember the other report about the Sapmanga Health Patrol?
One of the two critically ill patients who were airlifted for further treatment at the Etep Hospital was Robert*, a 15-year old boy, who showed up to the consultation clinic at Sapmanga with his mother.
Dr Simon reported: “They heard about the medical team being in Sapmanga and walked around 2 hours to see the medical team. Robert had suffered for 2 weeks from abdominal pain. It started from suddenly, that he felt a strong pain around his umbilicus. He didn’t want to eat anymore and started vomiting. Even now after 2 weeks the pain was still present and it was no small miracle, that he was able to make the distance to the hospital.
“During the examination, he had a high temperature and a very tender abdomen. With our pocket ultrasound, we could see free fluid in his abdominal cavity and multiple fluid field ‘balloons’. We diagnosed an acute appendicitis and thanks to MAF we could provide the young man with quick access to health care.
“He was operated on the next day at Etep Rural Hospital, recovered quickly and could finally enjoy his journey and explore some new places around the hospital area.
“The mortality rate (possibility of dying) due to an untreated appendicitis is considerably high and a life-threatening condition.
“That example reminded us, how crucial the access to health care is and how much we desire to improve access to health care by going out to the ones who need it most.”

* names of the two boys changed

Strategic Partnerships to Provide Better Health Care for Remote Communities
Story by Mandy Glass. Photos by Dr Simon Ganal

Having access to a doctor or medical facility in times of pain, injury or during pregnancy isn’t something many people can take for granted here in Papua New Guinea. Did you enjoyed last week’s story on the Kompiam health patrol to Malaumanda.

Strategic Partnership. Part 1/3: Enga Baptist Health Services, Kompiam

Part 2 of the series will take you to Morobe Province. MAF facilitated the very first health patrol for the team of the Lutheran Etep Rural Hospital to Sapmanga, a very remote village in the Finisterre Mountains, where the team not only helped many people with their pain and administered vaccinations but also detected a first Covid case.
Be encouraged by the following story as you “fly to Sapmanga joining the team there.”

PART 2: Health Patrol to Sapmanga

The last week of April 2021 saw the launch of a renewed partnership with the Lutheran Health Services in Morobe Province and with it, we are hoping to establish another regular aerial health patrol project out of Wasu. Wasu is the airstrip connecting the Etep Rural Hospital which is nestled uphill from Wasu airstrip and serving a population of 150,000 people in the area.
“We are all excited and ‘loaded’ for the first MAF-supported Health Patrol,” stated Dr Simon Ganal, Medical Officer at Etep Rural Hospital. “From my perspective, Sapmanga is one of the very best locations to start this project to improve primary health care in one of the most rural parts of Morobe and PNG.”

Brad Venter, one of the pilots, flew this first of the Morobe clinic patrols on 26 April 2021. He shared, “This has been a work in progress with Dr Simon Ganal and the Lutheran hospital in Etep for over a year. We flew a team of 7 health workers, including Simon, to Sapmanga where they will work in the community to deal with medical cases, do health training and vaccinations.”
“They will also get an idea of the overall medical situation to help with planning for transfers of critical medical cases to the Etep hospital before they become medevacs,” continued Brad. “This is also a great opportunity to share the gospel message in the community!”

Dr Simon lead a team consisting of a nursing officer and a midwife, two Health Extension Officers who are trained to deliver medical and administrative health care in rural areas, a dentist, and a Residential Medical Officer.

The team, in cooperation with five local Community Health Workers, were able to do 136 medical consultations, including antenatal care, coughs and other respiratory illnesses, skin diseases, pelvic inflammatory diseases, sexually transmitted diseases and tuberculosis. During the clinics, the first Covid-19 case was detected via antigene testing.

Dr Simon and his team also did five practical procedures and 23 immunisations. Besides that, they gave health awareness on seven different topics: cancer & screening, Covid-19, dental hygiene, family planning, malaria, tuberculosis, general hygiene and lifestyle, and estimate that about 200 people attended to the health education.

Flying back to Wasu after 3 days of health clinics and awareness at Sapmanga, two critically ill patients were also airlifted for further treatment at the Etep Hospital.

Excitement, motivation and a vision to continue

“After returning to Etep Rural Hospital, we were filled with excitement, motivation and a lot more stories to tell,” summarised Dr Simon.
“Outreaches are always special to us health workers,” he continued. “The conditions are raw and difficult, but you can’t find more medically sensible places to be. It motivates us to keep going after experiencing the needs and struggles at remote communities and at the same time being blessed by the hospitality and wonderful people out there.
“We hope that with this health patrol to Sapmanga we are planting a seed. A seed, that will steadily grow, and bring out an endless amount of fruits, so more seeds will drop down and grow plants on their own. We dream about a comprehensive program, which allows us to provide frequent access to provide health care for remote communities and so to cooperate more frequently and more intentionally with the various aid posts and health centres in our catchment area. By this, we can develop a high-quality primary health care, which leads to a real game-changing drift in the health sector.”

MAF’s part and partnerships

Each year in Papua New Guinea, MAF aircraft bring hope, healing, and physical and spiritual transformation through compassionate medical evacuation flights that serve the individuals and communities who live around the more than 150 airstrips MAF serves. Accomplishing this vision requires a team and strong partnerships; doctors, nurses, pilots, ground operations, flight operations, finance, IT, engineers, as well as individuals and organisations to help fund such flights.

To continue health patrol flights to more remote places in the Morobe Province would support preventive care to reduce the number of “emergency” cases and increase the overall health of communities through regular health surveillance. This is a proven concept and already well established with partnerships MAF has with the Enga Baptist Health Services out of Kompiam and the Aerial Health Patrol flights under the Sustainable Development Program Ltd out of Balimo in Western Province.

“This particular patrol to Sapmanga also exemplifies one of our MAF values – Partnership,” explains Satish Moka, MAF PNG’s Operations Director who was part of a team from MAF PNG which has been working with the Morobe Provincial Government on how best MAF could help the isolated communities in the area and for MAF to return to the province for operations. Satish continues, “Dr Simon Ganal from the Lutheran Health Services had expressed to MAF his desire to conduct health patrols in the Morobe Province. We had advised Dr Ganal to coordinate with Dr David Mills from the Enga Baptist Health Services, who has substantial subject matter expertise on rural health patrols. MAF PNG took this opportunity to seek approval from the Morobe Government to fund this maiden health patrol to Sapmanga which they graciously concurred. Looking at the achievement, this is a beautiful illustration of a successful partnership where under the patronage of the Morobe Provincial Government we could have the Lutheran Health Services team from Etep Rural Hospital bring hope, health and healing to the people living in remote Sapmanga using MAF as the facilitator.”