October marks 20 years since the Bali bombings terrorist attack, and one of West Leederville Private Hospital’s surgeons and Chairman of the MAC, Dr Vij Vijayasekaran, played a major role in the medical care and emergency evacuation of Australian victims.
To mark the heart-breaking anniversary, Stan has released a four part mini-series based on actual events, and specialist plastic surgeon Dr Vij Vijayasekaran and his wife anesthetist Dr Priya Thalayasingam are portrayed as key characters.
The couple arrived in Bali the day of the attack and were in a taxi home from dinner late that night when they noticed a flash in the sky…then a mushroom cloud of smoke.
“When we returned to our hotel we tried to find out what had happened if they needed help, but no one could explain to us so we went to bed,” Dr Vijayasekaran said.
The next morning, after discovering what had actually happened, the couple made their way to Sanglah General Hospital in Denpasar.
They went from ward to ward, assessing patients and performing escharotomies – an emergency surgical procedure that involves incising through areas of burnt skin.
“They had no anesthetic. I would explain that it was to save their limbs and someone would hold them while I operated. They all understood the situation and what we had to do. They were very brave.”
Resources in Bali were so limited Dr Vijayasekaran did not even have a blade handle…instead he held the blade between his fingertips to perform the emergency procedure.
Around midday Dr Vijayasekaran and other Australian volunteer medical professionals moved all Australian patients to one ward as it was getting too difficult to keep an eye on everyone.
“It was at this stage we had a chat to the army and basically explained to them the situation of what we were dealing with and how we needed to get these people out of there.”
Planes were organised, then Dr Vijayasekaran had the difficult decision of determining what order Australian patients were going to be airlifted in.
“While compiling this list a father came up to me and asked me to put his son on the first plane because he had lost his mum and his sister in the attack,” he said.
“The son was obviously injured but he was what we refer to as a walking wounded, meaning he wasn’t hurt to the point he needed a stretcher, but we still got him on that first plane.”
Dr Vijayasekaran was in flight or fight mode, and rather than focusing on the devastation around him he kept busy coordinating the evacuation of Australian patients and ensuring Priya was safe.
“I don’t think I have ever felt that physically tired before. My legs were just in absolute agony.”
At around 4:30am, confident all the injured westerners were ready to be evacuated, they headed back to their hotel.
“It was my aim to give everyone their best chance of survival and that meant getting them home. Even those people who may not make it, we wanted to ensure they had their families by their side.”
“We were glad we could make a difference and we felt very proud to be Australian.”
20 years on Dr Vijayasekaran said what helped him deal with the whole situation and the aftermath, was that he went through it with his wife so they could debrief together.
“Our line of work helped us get on with it. People often say it is amazing or heroic, but we entered the medical field to help people and that is exactly what we did that day.”
Here at Cura Day Hospitals Group we wanted to acknowledge West Leederville Private Hospital’s specialist plastic surgeon and Chairman of the MAC, Dr Vij Vijayasekaran, and of course his wife, Priya Thalayasingam, for their involvement in saving so many lives that day. We are proud to have you on our team, and while we know you did not do it for the accolades, we thought it was important to share your story and take a moment to think about the lives lost, and the hundreds of others impacted, on that devastating night.