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Doctors mend little broken hearts

Heart Valve disease affects children’s development. A team of doctors offers free surgery on children whose parents cannot afford the procedure to rectify the condition

Betty Muindi @PeopleDailyKE

Six-year-old Priscah Mgii clings onto her mother, her face emotionless, but her eyes display fright and anxiety. She is next in line for a heart valve surgery at the MP Shah Hospital cathlab waiting bay. Her mother Grace Makau, equally worried, keeps caressing her daughter’s back and mumbling some words, as if telling her:

“You will no longer have to get too tired whenever you go out to play with your friends, okay. It shall be well.” Priscah was diagnosed with heart valve disease when she was just one week old.

Basically, one of the valves in her heart was too narrow that the blood could not flow properly through the heart, putting more strain on her heart muscle. According to her mother, the condition has affected her daughter so much that she has delayed milestones and until now she cannot talk even though she understands when she is told something.

But Grace could not take her daughter to hospital for treatment because they could not afford the cost of surgery. “Raising my daughter has been difficult. She is not as active as other children and she loses her breath often because of this condition, I am glad and I thank God for this opportunity to give my child a new lease of life,” says Grace.

Priscah is among few children brought in from Coast through an international charitable organisation, that helps children who need urgent diagnosis and heart operation. Priscah is not alone in the room, a couple of other children lay in bed awaiting the same surgery.

One is already recuperating in the recovery room and another is still in theatre undergoing the surgery. Their parents’ eyes glitter with hope and clear appreciation to the hospital’s kind gesture to treat their children at no cost at all.

Paediatric Intensivist Dr Bhupi Reel at MP Shah (Second left) and Paediatric Cardiologist Dr Salim Jivanji (fourth left) who also heads Healing Little Hearts charity with a team of doctors. They offer free surgery to children with health valve disease. Photo/COURTESY

Occasionally, taking a break from the theatre, surgeons walk along the corridors all scrubbed up and masked.

They are a dedicated team of doctors and surgeons sourced both locally and abroad partnering to perform keyhole cardiac surgeries as part of MP Shah’s yearly Paediatric Heart Surgery Programme.

Some of the Paediatric Interventional Cardiologists are from Healing Little Hearts Charity in Spain and the United Kingdom.

“It comes free of charge for patients who otherwise cannot afford this expensive treatment. We are doing the surgery on 13 needy children suffering from various congenital heart ailments.

The 13 were selected out of 45 children from across the country who had come for screening this week,” said Paediatric Intensivist , Dr Bhupi Reel at MP Shah about the programme that ran from November 20-25.

He says that there are many children with heart ailments that need either keyhole or open heart surgeries, but cannot afford the high cost of operation.

“A key hole surgery, which is less invasive and requires little recovery time, costs about Sh750,000 to one million while an open heart surgery, which is done on more serious and complicated heart cases would cost up to Sh1.5million or more,” he says.

Healing Little Hearts led by Paediatric Cardiologist Dr Salim Jivanji from the UK said the children desperately needed surgical intervention in order to survive and to avoid complications, which could be non-reversible.

He said the charity caters for children who need the surgery the most. During this yearly programme, Jivanji says parents whose children are suffering from heart ailments are left to wait and hope for a miracle to happen because they cannot afford treatment for their children.

“They have no option left, but to wait in queue till their turn would arrive in the Healing Little Hearts, Cardiac surgery programme,” he says. Waiting, however, is dangerous as such a long delay could land them in complications and even death before having access to surgical management.

Last year, 16 needy children benefitted from the noble endeavour. Healing Little Hearts was launched as an official registered charity in 2007 in India to provide Free Heart Surgery to children that need it the most. The charity has spread its wings to Africa and according to Jivanji, they plan to continue branching out to other countries in desperate need of their help.

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