By SOLOMON KANTHA
IT WAS in November 2007 and I had just joined the International Organization for Migration (IOM) three months prior as its first national staff. My boss had travelled for his R&R (rest and recuperation) leaving me in charge of the new country office.
I was tasked with organising the medical escort of a Moroccan national to the city of Casablanca. The person had succumbed to a serious neurological condition known as Japanese encephalitis.
Lahsen from Morocco was in his late 30s. An agile, physically fit, smart and intelligent young man who reportedly had two university degrees and was multilingual in Arabic, French and English. He had anticipated a good life and left his country in the hope of starting a new life abroad. He had allegedly crossed the border from Indonesia into Western intending to irregularly enter Australia but unfortunately got ill and was sent to Port Moresby for treatment. His condition worsened and he was hospitalised and bedridden for almost ten years at the Port Moresby General Hospital.
My colleagues at the Geneva headquarters were a bit anxious given Lahsen’s medical condition and recommended to me that it was necessary as part of the medical escort to have a specialist doctor on board the aircraft to accompany Lahsen from Port Moresby to Singapore, Paris and on to Casablanca. That was when I reached out to Port Moresby General Hospital and was referred to the late Dr Lawrence Sogoromo an anesthesiologist.
I met Dr Sogoromo for the first time when he visited my office then in downtown Port Moresby at the Pacific MMI Building. A confident, soft-spoken, humble and sociable person, always beaming with a smile and the first to utter a greeting word.
I did not realise he was a doctor until he introduced himself. That was how I first recalled meeting him. I discovered after a few minutes into our discussion that he was impressively very knowledgeable about the medical care and treatment the patient would require on the flight.
Without any hesitation I immediately after our meeting requested Dr Sogoromo to be the medical doctor providing the escort to Casablanca. Dr Sogoromo was assisted by Sr Serina Hulijeli a soft spoken nurse who was one of the nurses who had over the years cared for Lahsen at the hospital.
Lahsen had a tracheotomy operation to control his airway and breathing. He was partially paralysed on the lower limbs and was cared for by nurses at the Port Moresby General Hospital for almost ten years. There was no better medical expert at that time who had full knowledge of the patient’s condition and how to keep him stabilised for the entire 25 hours duration of the trip than Dr Sogoromo.
I had to reassure my headquarters that Dr Sogoromo was aptly qualified to ensure Lahsen reaches his destination medically safe and sound.
He was also the national treasurer for the National Doctors Association. His life was a reflection of a true and humble public servant and his services would be sorely missed. His sudden passing not only leaves a huge void in the medical fraternity but to some of us who rely on his unwavering support and advice to save lives of migrants passing through PNG.
On Dec 3 of that year, Lahsen was dressed up for the first time after 10 years and was on a wheel chair being transported to Jacksons International Airport for a trip home he thought would never eventuate.
I recalled from Dr Sogoromo’s report after their return from Casablanca that it was a first ever trip made by a PNG medical doctor and nurse in escorting a patient overseas. It was a long trip too. Despite a few challenges in the aircraft and at boarding lounges waiting for their connecting flights with a disabled patient they were able to successfully deliver the patient home to the joy of the Moroccan authorities, IOM and Lahsen’s family members who thought they would never see their son and brother again.
I was so impressed and proud of the achievement in the successful medical escort by a PNG doctor and nurse. I continued to maintain contact with Dr Sogoromo after his engagement and always called upon him to seek necessary advice on medical cases encountered with migrants passing through PNG who had health issues. I reached out to him again in 2016 when we had a group of Vietnamese fishermen illegally fishing for bechedemer or sea cucumbers in Wewak and two of them had decompression illness as a result of using risky diving practices. Without his advice and recommendations for treatment the lives of these two fishermen would not have been saved to enable them to return home.
The late Dr Sogoromo from Saure village in East Sepik was a specialist anaesthetist doctor who had served the medical fraternity and Port Moresby General Hospital with dedication. At the time of his death he was the director of anaesthetic services at Port Moresby General Hospital and senior specialist medical officer in anaesthesiology. He was also the treasurer of the National Doctors Association.
His life was a reflection of a true and humble public servant and his services would be sorely missed. His sudden passing not only leaves a huge void in the medical fraternity but to some of us who rely on his unwavering support and advice to save lives of migrants passing through PNG.
- Solomon Kantha is the former Chief Migration Officer.