FRANCIS CHEWE, Lusaka
ONE grandfather walked 25km, all the way from Kanakantapa to the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport (KKIA) in Lusaka to receive a grandson named after him who was arriving from New Delhi, India.
Before his trip to New Delhi, the boy, aged 10, was often left under the care of his grandfather because he could not play with his friends due to his heart condition. Most of the time, he would run out of breath and his tongue would turn blue due to low oxygen supply. When the boy ran to his grandfather at the arrivals area at KKIA, the man was so overwhelmed that he fell to the ground with tears of joy streaming down on his face. He was filled with emotion because he had never seen his grandson running, so that alone was a sign that the boy was doing well.
Another mother told the story of how the father of her child left her because the baby needed a lot of attention and “he could not manage”. She couldn’t get a good job because she was always looking after the child. In fact, in the night she hardly slept because his condition could change at any time. On arrival from India, the woman told the story of how she was able to sleep soundly for the first time after the child’s operation. Sleep, something that other people take for granted, is something that this woman was longing for. These are some of the tales of parents with children with heart conditions.
The Rotary Club of Nkwazi is working in partnership with the Rotary Club of Ghaziabad Greater, in India, Rotary Club on Newtown, Rotary Club of Pelhams, and the UN Rotaract Club of the USA. Two non-governmental organisations, namely the Gift of Life USA, and African Vision of Hope, partnered to raise about US$220,000 to assist with the cardiac surgery of 29 children. The amount also catered for a parent or guardian accompanying each child abroad for cardiac surgery.
Simon Bota, the project chairperson, said the children that were identified for medical evacuation range from infancy up to the age of 12. These are children that have congenital heart disease (CHD), also known as congenital heart anomaly. CHD is a problem in the structure of the heart that is present at birth. Symptoms depend on the specific type of the problem and they can vary from none to life-threatening.
Cardiac surgery, is surgery on the heart or great vessels performed by cardiac surgeons. Heart surgery is done to correct problems in the heart.
President of the Rotary Club of Nkwazi John Kanenungo said the project involves sending 29 children from Zambia who have various heart conditions, for free surgery either to India, Israel or the United Kingdom.
“We also have partnered with the Ministry of Health, through the University Teaching Hospital (UTH)’s Paediatric Department, to identify the 29 children. Over 74 children were screened,” he said.
And head cardiologist Dr John Musuku, who heads the Children’s Hospital at UTH, said the hospital has embarked on the treatment of children with heart problems because the mortality level has been high. Hence, in the short term, UTH has partnered with people who can help evacuate patients abroad as the hospital is still developing local capacity in cardiac surgery.
“We are very happy with what Rotary Club of Nkwazi and its partners are doing to uplift the lives of children with heart conditions because most of the children’s parents have no money to evacuate them,” he said.
Last year, the Rotary Club of Nkwazi screened about 100 children with various heart conditions to identify those that needed to be sent to India for free surgery. And 20 children were identified. Health screenings were conducted over three days at UTH by doctors from Gift of Life USA and their UTH counterparts.
The total cost of surgery, boarding, lodging and return air tickets to Delhi, local conveyance and all other related expenses for the patients were met by this project which was heavily subsidised by partners in India.
The children and parents or guardians remained in New Delhi for about two to four weeks from the date of arrival on account of surgery and recuperation.
So far, all the children with their parents have returned and are fine, their future secured following the life-changing operations. These are children between zero and 12 years, who couldn’t run around like normal kids do at their age, had poor appetite, whose parents were often spending time either in hospital or at home nursing them. These children now have a chance to live normal healthy lives and their parents can also lead normal lives and spend their hard-earned money on the children’s education or food in the home rather than spending most of it on medical fees like the case before.
So, to the families involved, the cardiac surgeries have not only given a new lease of life to their children, but they are also going to change the lives of parents and other caregivers.