Ever smiling, forever sparkly, Everlyn Suau, is 27-year-old Specialist Speech Therapist at Modilon General hospital in Madang, Papua New Guinea (PNG). Everlyn was born with polio, which resulted in her having no kneecap and significant mobility issues. With the majority of her young life spent in the hospital, her Mum working as a midwife, and Dad delivering healthcare messages to remote communities, it is no surprise that Everlyn has pursued a career in healthcare. She is dedicated to offering quality service to other patients with disabilities.
“I work very hard in the ward. My heart feels for the patients. I understand as I am disabled and it gives me so much motivation.”
In PNG people living with disabilities are often treated badly. Everlyn is a patient advocate for this discriminated against group: “Disabled people are not treated well. In the village, people are more susceptible to being attacked and discriminated against. If they don’t have a close family member to look after them then they might be mistreated and often won’t be fed. I am really concerned for people like me, as most people don’t understand how to look after people with disabilities. At first people saw me differently but I have used this an opportunity to go out and give awareness. I am working to break the attitudes in the village where they have no respect for people with disabilities. The Government needs to acknowledge people with disabilities so that they have somewhere to be looked after. And I want to stop people having negative attitudes to disability and letting them down. I want them to encourage disabled people to look at their ability not their disability.”
Everlyn works long hours, rushes around the hospital seeing patients and is often on call at weekends: “I work very hard in the ward. My heart feels for the patients. I understand as I am disabled and it gives me so much motivation. When I see very sick people who have become sick and weren’t born that way, I can draw upon my experience of being disabled to help them. I use myself as an example that I can achieve with my disability and that they can get back to full strength as long as they have the right mindset. I don’t want them to think that they can’t get back to their full ability.”
In her role in the physiotherapy department she works closely with stroke patients giving them massage, helping with their speech and controlling spasticity. She also work with patients from the village who have never been included before; giving them basic sign language so that they can communicate for the first time. With her own physical disability, Everlyn has a deep understanding of how best to offer care to patients: “Because of my disability I treat patients differently; we have different ethics to able bodied people, we sense things. We know what it is like to be burdened but we want to lift people up from our disability. I give patients a different type of belief.”
“I want them to encourage disabled people to look at their ability not their disability.”
She received her training through Callan services and did training in Special Education for Disability at St Benedicts in Wewak, East Sepik. She has been working in her role in Madang for five years and is a valuable member of the Modilon team. Her boss, Dr Kuzma, Senior Orthopaedic Specialist, said that he is so proud of her and doesn’t want her to leave: “I want you to be with us forever as you are such a positive role model.”
It is likely that Everlyn will need more treatment for her knee as she has plates that need to be removed and she experiences daily pain. She is also passionate to continue her studies and has a dream to go to school to study paedeatric physiotherapy in Melbourne. One thing is for certain, with her determination she is certain to get there with a smile on her face.