September 29 is World Heart Day. HAS joins in the celebration to help spread the word that heart disease and stroke are the world’s leading causes of death. From elderly patients undergoing a heart attack to expectant and new mothers with peripartum cardiomyopathy, a rare weakened heart function associated with child birth, HAS treats many types of heart conditions to help our patients recover.
Meet Junior (pictured above with his grateful mother, Vedeline). At nine years old, he is one of HAS’ younger heart patients. Junior was born with a congenital heart defect (CHD), an anomaly of the heart responsible for over 220,000 deaths per year worldwide. Usually, only surgery can save a child with CHD.
A year ago, Junior’s defective heart began causing him pain and discomfort. His mother brought him to their local health clinic with an elevated heartbeat and fever. From there, Junior was referred to the local hospital. Yet his condition was deteriorating rapidly and more advanced diagnostic capabilities were needed to help him. He was referred to HAS, which serves as the only referral hospital for the 345,000 people in the Lower Artibonite Valley. Without any time to spare, Junior began a tense hour-long journey on bumpy back roads to arrive at HAS in the middle of the night.
The pediatrician on call immediately put Junior on oxygen to stabilize him. He remained hospitalized for two days as the medical team made the diagnosis of a congenital heart defect. Unfortunately, at HAS (like all hospitals in Haiti) we do not yet have the capability to perform open-heart surgeries like the one that Junior required. Yet we were dedicated to saving his life. As the head of pediatrics at HAS, I followed his case for one year to find a solution; all the while, his condition was deteriorating and it was clear that he would die if surgery could not be arranged soon.
Finally, I found a team of cardiac specialists who flew in to Port-au-Prince through an organization called La Chaine de l’Espoir with special equipment to do open heart surgery. Junior went to the capital city three times for care: first for a preliminary ultrasound, next for the open-heart surgery, and finally for a follow-up ultrasound in Port-au-Prince. Because there is limited capacity in Haiti as a whole to perform these highly advanced procedures, Junior was chosen to receive the surgery due to the severity of his condition – his life depended on it.
I made the three-hour trek to Port-au-Prince with Junior and his mother for the follow-up ultrasound. The ultrasound was perfect! His mother was even more thrilled: “He’s sleeping, eating, and drinking well. He’s playing nonstop. He’s even getting into trouble again!” she laughs.
Junior is looking forward to going back to school in October, both to see his friends again and to continue learning to read. Junior would have died by the end of the year if he hadn’t received this care. HAS continues to see him regularly, including with vital medication that he will need for the rest of his life.
Thanks to the network of health clinics and hospitals all working in collaboration with HAS, Junior is one of three HAS patients to receive this surgery. Seventeen more families hope for the same future for their children, and HAS is dedicated to making it happen.