BETTY GABRIEL WAKIA
PORT MORESBY - Hela has lost one of its most dedicated, committed and humble public servants with the death of James Tawila Wagiebu (1958–2019), the most qualified Papua New Guinean echocardiographer.
And, with his death, echocardiography services in PNG have come to a temporary halt as an urgent search for a replacement continues.
Echocardiography (also known as ECG) is a specialised medical technique which enables the human heart and its functioning to be studied and understood, and James Wagiebu was the only qualified Papua New Guinean qualified in this field.
Most Papua New Guineans who have gone to Port Moresby General Hospital’s Sir Budi Kidu Heart Institute to have their heart checked by the ECG machine know of James, as do students who have passed through the UPNG Medical School.
As the only practicing echocardiograph technician in the country he served thousands of Papua New Guineans over the course of his career.
He also served hundreds of UPNG students by teaching basic ECG to fourth year medical students and postgraduate nursing students as well as assisting many doctors with their research.
James Wagiebu came from a Pari clan of the Pandu village in the South Koroba district of Hela Province.
Many in his family and extended family did not understand his work until they heard about it from Professor Sir Isi Henao Kevau, a family friend, during the funeral service.
There was much surprise when Sir Isi explained that James was the only echo technician in Papua New Guinea.
James had been outspoken about the importance of echocardiography and in urging the health department to train more Papua New Guineans in this expertise, but this never eventuated.
As a result, his sudden death on 20 September caused operations of the ECG suite to come to a halt. The search continues overseas for a replacement technician.
James’ education was encouraged by his late mother, Wagubi Katia, who, even though uneducated herself, fought for her son to be enrolled at Koroba Community School (1966-72) from where he went to Tari High School (1973-76) and the Mt Hagen school of Nursing (1977-80).
From there went on to further study at the University of Papua New Guinea.
He and two colleagues, Ruben Mari from Wanigela and Ken Kama from Samarai, known as ‘The Three Musketeers’, were pioneers in the field of health science in PNG.
In 1992, James was the first Papua New Guinean to study echocardiography at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney.
In his footsteps followed his comrades Ruben Mari and Ken Kama, who studied medical technology at London Biomedical Institute of Technology in the United Kingdom.
These faithful friends and humble men, committed to their profession, have since those formative years quietly been serving the eight million people of Papua New Guinea.
James Wagiebu is survived by his wife and two sons and a daughter. He was laid to rest last Wednesday.