Dr Kernohan transforms a life – Project Natalia – a Humanitarian project at Liverpool Hospital

Project Natalia – Plastic Surgeon Dr Michael Kernohan helps change the life of an Indonesian woman with rare genetic disorder – Neurofibramatosis (massive facial tumours)


Dr Michael Kernohan Plastic Surgeon and Associate Professor Bruce French Cardiothoracic Surgeon have helped change the life of 26-year-old Ms Natalie Asperay from West Papua Province in Indonesia. The pair lobbied the Liverpool hospital’s board to allow them to treat Natalia as a humanitarian patient for Rotary’s Project Natalia

Many Rotary clubs raised the money to fly her to Australia and Liverpool Hospital medical Staff operated for free performing complex operations in a 7-hour surgery to reconstruct her face and transform her life.

Thanks to all involved in Project Natalia including

Dr Michael Kernohan Project Natalia Sydney
  • Mr Gray and the Rotary Club Phnom Penh
  • Liverpool Hospital – CEO and Management, All the Surgeons and Support Staff
  • Many Rotary Clubs including Liverpool West, Melton, Strathdale and Bendigo
  • Photographer Luke Fuda – South Western Sydney Local Health District

Read Natalie’s Story in this Article from News.com.au

A team of Sydney specialists has performed a series of “complex and mammoth” surgeries to remove a mass of tumours from the face of a young woman — with astonishing results.

Natalia Aperasay, 26, was born with neurofibromatosis — a genetic disorder which causes benign tumours to form in the skin, brain, spinal cord and other parts of the body.

In Ms Aperasay’s case, the condition was so severe it resulted in the malformation of the entire right side of her face, making eating, drinking and talking a daily struggle.

The brave young woman, from West Papua, also had to cope with the reactions of others, saying she endured “a lot of shame growing up” and felt compelled to hide her face from the world.

That changed when a US medical team came across Ms Aperasay in her home province of Jayapura and passed on her story to Peter Gray, the Australian-born president of the Rotary Club of Phnom Penh, who was visiting West Papua at the time.

“They sent me a photo of Natalia and I thought: ‘How can we help’?” Mr Gray told the Liverpool Champion last year. “No one deserves to live like this.”

Mr Gray went through his contact book and hit the phones, raising thousands of dollars with the help of Rotary clubs in western Sydney, Bendigo and his own Phnom Penh chapter.

He was put in touch with plastic and reconstructive surgeon Dr Michael Kernohan and cardiothoracic surgeon Dr Bruce French at Liverpool Hospital in Sydney’s south west.

Natalia Aperasay, who was born with neurofibromatosis, says she has spent a lifetime hiding her face in shame.

Dr Kernohan examines Natalia as Liverpool Hospital Dr-Kernohan_Sydney

Ms Aperasay is assessed at Liverpool Hospital. Picture: Luke Fuda / South Western Sydney Local Health District

Dr Kernohan said he had never seen a case as complex as Ms Aperasay’s.

Rotary flew Natalia to Australia late in 2018 for an intensive week of medical appointments and scans before she returned again in May as a humanitarian patient,” Dr Kernohan said.

“It was a really eye-opening experience working with Rotary. Everyone has been outstanding in what they have given and Natalia has shown such courage.”

It was an amazingly complex and mammoth surgical procedure performed in one of our public hospitals which is testament to everyone involved.”

Before and After Picture of Natalia – Neurofibramatosis patient

Natalia Asperasay Before and After Surgery Dr Kernohan Sydney

Natalia Aperasay before and after her life changing surgery. Ms Aperasay’s massive team of specialists included plastic surgeons, ear nose and throat surgeons, ophthalmologists, interventional radiologists, clinical psychologists, anaesthetists and nursing staff.

All of them gave their time freely to treat and care for Natalia and Rotary covered her transport and accommodation needs, making this one great team effort,” Dr Kernohan said.

There are countless people who offered their time to be part of something that had never been done in a NSW hospital.”

Natalia Asperasay AFTER Surgery Photo Dr Kernohan Sydney

Natalia Aperasay shows off the incredible results of her surgeries and says she no longer feels the need to hide her face. Picture Credit: Luke Fuda / South Western Sydney Local Health District

Natalia Asperasay post Surgery compression bandage Dr Kernohan Sydney

A ‘second skin’ mask helps Ms Aperasay’s face heal and prevent infection. Picture: Luke Fuda / South Western Sydney Local Health District

Ms Aperasay underwent surgeries in May and again in June which involved the removal of a significant portion of the right side of her face, reconstruction of her face, nose mouth and eyelid.

In an exclusive statement to news.com.au, she shared her joy at having been given a new lease on life, thanking Rotary and staff at Liverpool Hospital for their “love and willingness to help” and describing them as “like family”.

“I felt a lot of shame growing up in Jayapura because of my face,” she said.

“I am so happy to be going back to see my community. I no longer feel the need to hide my face. There is no way I can pay everyone back for how they have helped.”

Dr Kernohan said if Ms Aperasay needed help in the future he would be there for her in a heartbeat.

Project Natalia Facebook Page Dr Kernohan Sydney

Natalia has been so brave throughout this unfamiliar journey and has not complained once,” he said.

Planning for Natalia’s care started 18 months before she came to Australia,” he said.

“I want to commend Liverpool Hospital, the support from management and the Chief Executive for making this possible.”

The Rotary Clubs of Liverpool West, Bendigo, Strathdale and Phnom Penh collaborated to support all transport, appointments and accommodation arrangements for Natalia and her carer Ema Ondoafo.

Further Information about Project Natalia

Media References