From his career as a nurse in the remote outback community of Birdsville, to his work in some of the world's most dangerous warzones in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen, Distinguished Alumnus Andrew Cameron OAM has consistently expanded his professional horizons as a humanitarian aid worker. This year, Andrew seized the opportunity to continue giving back to those less fortunate, and soon found himself on a flight to Ukraine.
'I knew that my training as a La Trobe University nursing graduate, my practical skills, and my wealth of experience could be put to good use again.'
Andrew found his experience in Ukraine to be one of the most rewarding of his career, although he doesn't downplay the challenges of operating in an active warzone.
'The work was very intense, brutal and often heart-wrenching stuff. The wounded soldiers and civilians were many. I commenced my assignment in the city of Lviv. The organisation I was with asked for volunteers to go a thousand kilometers east to a city quite a bit closer to the action. No one put their hand up, and though I was the oldest by about 40 years, I said I might as well be the one to go.'
In this new city, Andrew worked tirelessly between a military trauma ward, operating theatres, dressing clinics, and a local hospital. For security reasons, the name of this hospital must remain undisclosed. Andrew made it a personal mission was to provide comfort and support to those undergoing intensive surgeries.
'If I saw them struggling with anxiety immediately prior to the surgery, I did what any nurse would do, and held their hand and said words of encouragement. It helped. It really did.'
It was during his time at this hospital that Andrew crossed paths with Private Dmitry, a burly patient with strong English language skills. Dmitry, in a quiet moment before anesthesia, expressed his fears with Andrew.
'Dmitry pulled my ear down to his pre-anaesthetised face and said quietly, “I tell you Andrew, if I see a Russian tank hiding in the trees 200 meters from my trench, with his big-caliber barrel pointing straight at me, I am not afraid. But in here, on this table, surrounded by this sea of blue gowns, masked faces and white-tiled walls... Well then, I am terrified.” Moments later the surgeon began removing more of his left lower arm, the better part of which had been blown off by a missile the week before. Gosh, they're tough.'
The next day, Andrew encountered Dmitry on a stairwell landing outside the ICU, and Dmitry was smiling.
'Dmitry told me he hoped to be back fighting alongside his comrades before long. He believed he could still hold a rifle and shoot with one and a half arms – it took a ton of grit. I would have been a mess.'
Despite being in close proximity to the action, Andrew felt mostly safe. International staff from various organisations, along with the entire city, were given early warnings about incoming rockets and had bunkers to retreat to. Andrew explains that despite the danger, the fulfillment of doing something positive for the world far outweighed the risks.
'Many patients, staff and relatives often told me how appreciative they were that I had come from the other side of the world to assist them.'
'I won’t say “there was never a dull moment,” because there were some of those from time to time. But the enriching ones far outweighed them. I recommend any La Trobe Nursing School graduate to consider humanitarian-aid work at some stage in their career.'