In the New Year’s Honours list, Sadun Kithulagoda, an Anaesthetic Technician at Wellington Regional Hospital, received an Honorary Queen’s Service Medal, for services to the Sri Lankan community. Every year he goes back to Sri Lanka and he also supports the community here in Wellington.
This award recognises people like Sadun who have served and given back, with a focus on those who have given generously to others in need especially in local communities.
This is a prestigious award and a very well-deserved achievement for Sadun who always strives to give back to his community with a smile on his face. Sadun has not only massively contributed to the Sri Lankan community in Wellington but also to the country itself.
Tell us about your role as an Anaesthesia Technician.
“We are an integral part of the anaesthetic team, delivering tailored care for patients. We have technical knowledge and expertise with ventilators and airway equipment. We are also a part of the wider theatre team.”
Why did you choose a job in healthcare?
“My wife is a nurse. That's how I learnt about this job and I've trained from there. I started training in New Zealand when I moved here 34 years ago. My first three years I spent in Kenepuru then I moved to Wellington Regional Hospital. I’ve worked for Capital, Coast and Hutt Valley for 31 years.”
What’s your biggest work achievement?
“I received an award for ‘Excellence in Clinical Practice’ for Capital, Coast and Hutt Valley (when it was still the three DHBs) 11 years ago. I was allowed the opportunity to come and do ECG guided PICC lines, so I became the first anaesthetic technician to do PICC lines in Australasia.
A PICC line (Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter) is a long IV line (55 centimetre) that is inserted into the vein in your upper arm, with the tip lying near the entrance to the heart. A PICC line can be used for liquid food for patients that can't eat; long-term antibiotics for severe infections; withdrawing blood, and other strong medications.
Because a PICC line lies near the entrance to the heart, strong medications given through the line come out where there is lots of blood flow, and quickly dilute the medication. This does not damage the heart and if this medication was given through a smaller IV line in your arm, the medication would quickly damage the vein and cause pain.
A PICC line can stay in for many months depending on what kind of IV therapy the patient needs."
Tell us about the work that you were doing in the Sri Lankan community.
“I work with three other doctors; two surgeons and one anaesthetist. We go to Sri Lanka every year and we do a surgery called cranioplasty, which involves a plastic surgeon and neurosurgeon working together. We work for ten days there, voluntary, and one surgery takes five hours, roughly. We go there, get out from the airport, go to the hotel and from the next morning onwards, we start working every day doing 10–11-hour shifts, doing nearly 20 surgeries during the time we are there.
At the same time, we teach them how to do difficult cases. There's quite a lot, but it's a very rewarding thing for me. This year we’re planning to go in April.
Old equipment, and instruments, are often donated and I am the collection point for this and I send it to Sri Lanka every year.
Southern Cross Hospital have previously given me 30 hospital beds, three anaesthetic machines, and ten diathermy machines to send. They give me quite a huge amount of stuff every year.
The Wellington United Sri Lankan Association collect the money for the old donated medical equipment I have so there’s enough funding to send it over to Sri Lanka.”
Do you do work with the Wellington Sri Lankan community?
“I have been supporting many new migrants that come to Wellington and I was president for three years for the Association – it was a wonderful three years.
I'm a celebrant as well. I travel around the country for weddings. Coming up will be my 192 wedding. I have done six weddings in Sri Lanka, four weddings in Australia, one in Bali, one in America, and the rest in New Zealand. I don't charge anything because that's my gift for the newly married couple. I do around 22-25 weddings a year.
When I came here, I came with nothing. The people around me gave me a hand. This place (Wellington Regional Hospital) gave me the chance to start my life. I will never forget that. That's why I'm still here. I’ll never leave this hospital because of this. New Zealand is a beautiful country with beautiful people. Without them, I don't think I would have come this far. Even with this award, I’ve mentioned to everybody that this is not my award: it is everyone’s. I was just the person who got the ideas and ran with the idea to give back, but everybody helped. Without them I would've never been able to achieve what I have.
What led you into the work? Was it just the drive to help others and give back?
“One thing I believe in when you do something, you have to give it 200 percent. That's my first thing. Second, when you start your life whoever’s helped you, never forget them. I always try to be happy and cheerful.”
What did you think when you learned that you'd received a QSM?
“I got really surprised. The letter came in April 2023 and I thought somebody was doing an April fool’s joke on me! Then I showed my family and they said no this is real. So I rang the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to ask if it was true and they said yes and I was very humble and proud.
I never expected anything like this. That's why I always think on the positive side. I'm very happy, very happy.”
What's the process of receiving the award?
“They are going to present it to me at the Governor General’s house. That's all I know; I've never been to something like this before!”