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Ashford Hospital | From Vanuatu to Adelaide: how an Ashford doctor saved the life of a man from across the ocean.

Oct 29, 2019 | Reading Time: 3 minutes


When Ngunnawal man from Queanbeyan in NSW Rob Williams was in Vanuatu for his PhD, he met Jilifi, a man with a massive tumour on his face.

The pair became friends and Rob was welcomed by Jilifi’s family, which made him more determined to help the man who was in much pain and just waiting to die.

With a young family to care for and so much to live for, Jilifi’s tumour was taking up a large part of his face and causing him troubles eating and drinking.

Jilifi had visited doctors on the island who weren’t able to help him so Rob turned to his mother Kathryn Holder for help.

Kathryn agreed to help bring Jilifi to Australia for medical treatment and began reaching out to specialists.

South Australian oral and maxillofacial surgeon Dr Andrew Cheng responded and expressed an interest in treating Jilifi.

“In the email he said that Jilifi would be his 2019 pro bono case if we could get him here to Australia. With the support of Ashford Hospital, Jilifi will be having his surgery here in Adelaide,” Kathryn said.

Thanks to generous donations from strangers, clubs, communities and friends, Kathryn and Rob raised enough money to bring Jilifi over to Adelaide to meet with Dr Cheng.

“When Jilifi arrived in Adelaide, he came to my clinic the first day. He has his scarf wrapped around his face. He was very shy and obviously in pain. Through my examination he does have a large tumour, which extended from the base of his skull, involving his eye socket, cheekbone, and the lesion has deformed his lower jaw, because it’s been growing for 13 years,” Dr Cheng said. “At the beginning he had a pretty serious infection that required antibiotics to treat. We organised a CT scan for him through Benson Radiology and their generosity. This enabled us to be able to accurately diagnose exactly where the tumour is and whether the surgery’s is feasible.”

Thanks to advanced technology at Ashford and the generosity of the doctors and staff, Dr Cheng was able to use 3D planning to treat Jilifi.

“I was very lucky that Ashford Hospital allowed me to perform the pro bono surgery for Jilifi. The operation has taken 21 hours to complete. The reason for taking so long, [is] it’s not only the removal of a tumour, it involves the base of the skull and also most of the major vessels of Jilifi’s neck.,” Dr Cheng says.

“It also involves the Dura surface of the brain, which has to take a careful dissection not to breach the Dura. The reconstruction of the middle of his face required taking the side of his leg with the fibula bone, and we had to section the bone into three segments to be able to reconstruct his nose, the cheekbone, and also his zygomatic arch. This [will] hopefully will give him adequate facial aesthetics in the future, so he doesn’t have to wear a scarf around his face anymore.”

Jilifi and his family are absolutely thrilled with the results and the hope it has given them for the future. 

Kathryn and Rob were overwhelmed by the generosity of the community and the way Dr Cheng and Ashford Hospital helped to save Jilifi by providing resources, medical staff and room for him to heal. 

“Jilifi is looking forward to going home back to Futuna, and thinking of building a new house for the family, because he now has a life ahead he can plan for. For him, it is a miracle, for all of us, that he has a future,” Kathryn Holder said.

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