Vebui Bala with family members (L–R) Paia Ingram, Kinibo Bala and Lilly Manega in front of St Andrew's war memorial hospital.
Vebui Bala with family members (L–R) Paia Ingram, Kinibo Bala and Lilly Manega. Photo: Ashley Goetze

Churches unite to form brain trust

In an active demonstration of Christ’s love, different parts of the Uniting Church worked together to change the course of one man’s life. Ashley Goetze reports.

Last October, a team of specialists from St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital, Brisbane performed a rare life-saving operation on Vebui Bala, a 21-year-old man from a small village in Central Province, Papua New Guinea (PNG).

In response to the deadly tumour behind Vebui’s right eye and a financial burden too large to bear, St Andrew’s, a UnitingCare hospital; Gaba Gaba United Church in PNG and Glasshouse Country Uniting Church on the Sunshine Coast worked together to support Vebui financially, emotionally and spiritually.

The tumour had grown through Vebui’s eye sockets, into his cranial cavity, sinus, and wrapped itself around brain structures.

“I was very scared,” says Vebui, “one time I told my aunt I didn’t want to have the surgery.” Vebui’s aunt, Paia Ingram remembers his doubt well.

“To say the truth, Vebui gave up three times,” she says.

Overwhelmed with worry about the strain he felt he was placing on loved ones, it was ultimately the support of Glasshouse Country church members that helped him pull through.

“They put their hands on Vebui and pray all over him. While they were praying Vebui said that he had the feeling a heavy burden on his chest was released and his tears rolled,” says Paia.

Later that afternoon Vebui approached his aunt to give his consent to the operation.

“If everyone is praying for me and God is with me I will go through with it,” he said.

Church members came forward to give and prayers were answered when St Andrew’s covered his $100 000 operation costs pro bono.

“Without the generosity and compassion of Professor Sullivan (Brisbane ophthalmologist), the other doctors and St Andrew’s who covered his stay in hospital and operating theatre costs, Vebui would have had a very short future,” says Vebui’s uncle, John Ingram.

The seven-hour surgery conducted on 16 October has been described by Professor Sullivan as one of “only a few cases that have been described in world literature”.

Discharged on 30 October, Vebui returned home to PNG in time for Christmas with family, and with extra money in his pocket to begin business studies in the New Year.

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