Canberra obstetrician David O’Rourke has for the last eight years sacrificed a portion of the fees from his private practice in Deakin to build and fund a hospital in a poverty-stricken town in West Timor.
In that time, his patients have effectively donated a portion of their expenses to the hospital, rather than to Dr O’Rourke, raising $1.2 million. And 46,000 patients have been through the Mother Ignacia Hospital, since it opened five years ago in the town of Soe.
“I’m very honoured that someone has decided to put me up for that. I’m a sort of an under-the-radar sort of person,” he said.
Dr O’Rourke, and his wife Sue-Ann, decided to build the hospital after he made a life-changing trip to West Timor in 2009 and saw the level of need.
“You can’t change the world, but you can make the world better for some people along the way,” the father-of-four from Garran said.
“We are so privileged where we live and I’m determined to give some of my privilege back to others, and this is the tool I do it by. And it’s an easy fundraising model. You’re just swapping skill you do every day for your charitable project, so anyone could do it.”
Originally from Goulburn, Dr O’Rourke, who turns 52 on Tuesday, was a GP first, moving into obstetrics later. He has delivered 3500 babies in the public and private sectors.
“When you deliver a baby, it’s part of the creation of the family unit and in our world, it’s usually safe, with a good outcome. We’re all very lucky that we take these things for granted,” he said.
“I do the fertility stuff as well so, once again, it’s always a thrill when you’re involved in the fertility side of things and you deliver a baby.”
His parents Paul and Jenny O’Rourke still live in Goulburn and he visits patients there once a month.
The hospital in West Timor is a collaboration with a local order of nuns, The Religious of the Virgin Mary, and the Flinders Overseas Health Group, a collection of volunteer health professionals across Australia including doctors, nurses, pharmacists and laboratory scientists who give their time and expertise in the Eastern Indonesian province of Nusa Tengara Timur, which includes West Timor.
The O’Rourkes are not religious but formed a strong bond with the nuns, who were passionate about getting the hospital built.
“I’d like to acknowledge Sister Yasinta, who is now deceased, and Sister Bernadette from West Timor; Andrew Love, Richard Turnbull and the Flinders Overseas Health Group and Dr Peter Scott from Canberra, who have all contributed to make the Mother Ignacia Hospital a success,” Dr O’Rourke said.
There are plans to expand the hospital, which has recently added a “waiting house” where women from outlying villages can wait until labour, at no cost.
“It will be a long-term thing for me,” Dr O’Rourke said.
And one of his biggest fans is his 16-year-old daughter Lily, who has included a study of the hospital in West Timor as part of her International Baccalaureate at the Canberra Grammar School.
“I’m using the hospital to compare the healthcare in Indonesia and Australia and the disparities between them, even though we live so close to them,” she said.
She was impressed by what had been achieved by her father.
“I am so incredibly proud of him,” she said.
“I think it’s been so important for my little brothers and me because we live a very privileged, sheltered life, we have no troubles and then seeing him help these people who have nothing has been such an amazing thing to see and put our fortunate position into perspective. I’m very proud of what he’s done.”