When we arrive at Catheterization Laboratory at Mater hospital, Dr. Loice Mutai, a paediatrician cardiologist has a special request to Dr. Wambani Jeska Sidika, a young boy’s life is in the balance and he could lose his life if the heart surgery is not done urgently.

Nine-year-old Emmanuel Kosgei Kipkemoi however is not at the top of the list of beneficiaries of the cardiac programme. Her request to the CEO is that the boy be moved up the surgery schedule list.

He has a congenital heart disease termed, Tetralogy of Fallot. He has a hole in his heart and his heart valves are too tight valves to allow blood to flow to the lungs.

Usually a team of cardiologist determine who is next in line for surgery depending on the availability of funds, readiness and the condition of the patient. The first-come-first-serve rule operates except in critical cases of patients such as Emmanuel.

Emmanuel’s condition was discovered during a screening camp by the Mater Hospital in Kuresoi, Nakuru County. His parents were advised to bring the boy to Mater Hospital in Nairobi for further diagnosis but they did not come.

They only managed to come to the hospital three years after the diagnosis and by then his heart condition had deteriorated.

“We risk losing this child yet if we could perform the surgery, it could turn his life around,” Dr. Mutai says.

There was a time in Kenya when a diagnosis of a heart disease was like giving a death sentence. Parents would lose hope when they heard that their child needed to be seen by a heart doctor.

“They would cry even as you entered the room because you would be the doctor who would condemn their child.  There was no much treatment on heart diseases at that time. You could get treatment outside the country if you were lucky,” Prof Christine Jowi, a paediatric cardiologist and Mater Hospital cardiac consultant tells The Seed.

Fortunately such heart problems can now be treated right here in Kenya. Since 1995, Mater Hospital has been performing open and closed heart surgeries.

Their first heart surgery was on four-year-old boy whose mother, as Prof. Jowi says, was the first woman who dared to allow them to carry out a heart surgery on her son.

There are two types of heart conditions that the child may have the congenital and the rheumatic. The congenital heart disease occurs when a child is born with defects in the heart; holes, blocked blood passages, weak valves and other conditions that interfere with the flow of blood in the heart.

The rheumatic heart disease on the other hand is acquired as the child grows, the main cause being untreated sore throats that end up affecting the heart.

“Usually the child will experience a severe sore throat that includes pus-forming at the back of the throat. The body now reacts abnormally (immunological reactions) to form immune complexes from the body trying to attack and fight the bacteria. These complexes travel around the body and settles in many parts, the heart included,” Dr Mutai explains.

“Those other parts heal after some time but it causes a permanent scarring in the heart mostly in the valves and some tissues. It interferes with its working such that the valves will not close and open well when it is required to. This results into rheumatic heart fever and eventually, if not taken care of, rheumatic heart disease,” she says.

Other conditions that affect the heart come about because of the eating habits and poor physical activity resulting in a lot of fats in the heart.

Child heart surgery is very expensive, totalling up to KShs 2million per child including care, equipment, time and medicines used. Owing to this, most patients are not able to raise the funds yet they really need the surgery.

The Mater Hospital Cardiac Program took up the Mater Heart Run as a fundraising activity in order to help children who cannot pay for the surgery.

The Mater Heart Run started in 2005 as Dettol heart run and with time it developed to Dettol-Mater heart run to The Mater Heart run that it is today.

Through the Mater Heart Run Funds, some patients get co-funding as they raise some amount while others get full funding depending on their background.

Such beneficiaries include 17 year old Nicholas Mutisya a form three student at Mbiuni High School in Machakos County who had a heart surgery in July 2016.

It is the first time he is coming for a check up after the surgery and his joy is evident.

“I don’t know what I would give Mater Hospital. I sincerely thank you for all that you have done to me and I encourage you to continue with the same spirit and good heart. I appreciate you for that,” he says.

He was 12 years old when doctors at Mutuini district informed his parents that he had a problem with the heart beat. He later went to Mbagathi Hospital from where he was referred to Kenyatta National Hospital.

“That is when I was diagnosed with a rheumatic heart disease. Since I could not raise the money for surgery, I relied on medicine and attending clinics for close to five years,” Nicholas tells The Seed.

“I was always tired and sometimes I would faint. I could not play with the other children and there were days I was so sick I would stay home for even two months. Most of my teachers and fellow students understood my condition and they helped a lot,” Nicholas says.

One day a nun at his school, Sr Fillister told him about the Mater Heart Run and how through it, many children have received heart surgeries.

He came to Mater Hospital and enrolled in a program that saw him, through the help of Mater Heart Run Fund, get a surgery. Coming from an underprivileged background, Nicholas got the full funding for the surgery.  He only raises fees for clinic visits.

The confidence and glow in Alvin Koome’s eyes show his reason to be thankful. He is quick to introduce himself and respond to questions.

“I came to thank the Mater Heart Run for treating my heart,” said Alvin, when asked why he came.

The 6-year-old only child also benefited from the Mater Heart Run Fund as he underwent a heart surgery in May to close a hole in his heart.

His condition was recognised when he was four years old.

“No one recognised that he had a hole in his heart where I gave birth,” explains Alvin’s mother, Sarah Nkirote.

“You can imagine giving birth to a child who cannot breast feed and you have to express all through. It was very difficult.  His growth was slow and you had to be patient with him all the time. I even had to stop working in order to take care of him. He could get tired easily and missed a lot of classes,” Sarah explains.

She says that before Alvin’s problem was identified, they kept going in and out of hospitals. A little cold could really deteriorate his health and he was on medication all through.

“In October 2014, he got an infection and when taken to hospital, the doctor realised that his heart size was not normal.”

They had to do a chest x-ray, which indeed showed that his left side of the heart was enlarged. They then visited a cardiologist who did some test which showed that he had a hole in his heart.

Alvin’s family could not raise the total amount required for the surgery so they received a top up from the Mater Heart Run Fund.

According to Dr. Wambani the Mater hospital receives such requests often especially from children who are from far away. Unfortunately the Mater Heart Run funds are little compared to the magnitude of the need.

“We facilitate the process for those children who can pay to get the surgery. For the children who cannot cater for the full amount, we enrol them into the Cardiac Program list supported by Mater Heart Run Fund,” Ms. Roseanne Nyabera, Mater Cardiac Program Coordinator explains.

The challenge they encounter with heart problems, she says, is that most children come in for treatment when it is late, like a year after the screening, hence making their cases critical.

“We offer cardiac services but we are not yet a fully fledged cardiac centre. When they come late and they are very sick, it means that we get strained and stressed,” Prof Jowi adds.

“I just want people to know that Mater Heart Run helps people and we should never get tired of helping them,” Ms Nyabera says.

This year alone, the hospital has been able to do 336 heart surgeries between January and June 2016.

By Sharon Korir

THE SEED MAGAZINE

Giving Hope to Faint Hearts: Why Heart Disease is No longer a Death Sentence