Border closures and additional pressure on the New Zealand Health system have resulted in severe restrictions in bringing children to New Zealand for life-saving treatment in the last two years.

In the last year, we have had a single patient Penny from Tonga, for treatment at Starship Children’s Hospital. Penny arrived May 19, 2021, during a window when borders opened, spent two weeks in MIQ followed by pre-op admission, completed on June 4.
At this time RSV infections in children and increase pressure on staff and ICU bed availability resulted in a number of surgery delays.
Penny finally had her surgery on July 23, to repair/replace three heart valves.
It was now eight weeks since Penny had arrived in New Zealand.
 Penny recovered well from her surgery and flew through the 2 post-op clinic appointments scheduled for August 9 and 20.  She was discharged to return home after the final clinic appointment. This coincided with a period when Auckland went into lockdown for the second time – due to rising Covid 19 cases in the community. It was now 12 weeks since Penny arrived in Auckland.
By the time Auckland came out of lockdown the government of Tonga had closed its borders so there was still no opportunity to repatriate both Penny and her father Hola who had accompanied her on this trip.
Romac did a lot of work and follow up with the team in Tonga to identify opportunities for returning Penny and Hola home. In early November ROMAC received notification that Tonga was organising a repatriation flight from Christchurch to Tonga so all the supporting administration was completed and Penny and Hola flew to Christchurch to commence quarantine ahead of catching a flight scheduled for November 30. At this point Romac handed over responsibility for Penny and Hola to the Tongan Authorities and we could no longer oversee the ongoing accommodation and administration of this patient. It is now 6 months since Penny and Hola arrived in New Zealand.
The repatriation flight was canceled by the Tongan government and Penny and Hola returned to Auckland to stay with family. Romac kept a watch on this but were no longer involved in the day-to-day administration and repatriation process. Penny and Hola finally returned home on February 15 some 9 months after arrival. The breadwinner of the family was caught up in what was predicted to be about a 12-week stay.
The time details have been included as part of the story ash when considering to bring patients for treatment in the current climate of quarantine, lockdown, and testing requirements across all of the countries and states involved in the logistics and treatment of patients. 

Some good things come from lockdown 

During the second New Zealand Covid-19 lockdown, ROMAC District 9930 Chair Glenys Parton put together a quilt that will be used as a fundraiser for ROMAC. Initially, it was a quilt project she had cut out but had not finished assembling. As the layout and design formed Glenys decided that it was all about mending the hearts of the children of our Pacific neighbors. It is proposed to offer the quilt as a raffle in the next year.

Planning the final journey for Vinna. 

Vinna first came to ROMAC in 2017 and followed a 2 year journey to repair a multiple fracture and infection of her right leg.
The final stages of treatment required the insertion of a plate to stabilise the bone graft and Vinna was due to have this plate removed in April 2020. Covid-19 intervened and the removal of the plate did not happen.
Recently as borders begin to open and MIQ requirements ease ROMAC NZ has recommenced the process to get Vinna back to Hamilton, New Zealand to complete her treatment. Vinna’s journey has not only included ROMAC but also the wider community of supporters including Fruits of the Pacific, Marine Reach Family Care Centre, Vanuatu and members of the apple industry who have continued to take an interest and support the treatment of Vinna.
ROMAC Contacts
Glenys Parton
(Tauranga Sunrise)