Pratt backed organisation performs first paediatric open heart surgery in Tanzania

August 8, 2011 by  
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A medical team from Israel’s Save a Child’s Heart has successfully performed the first ever paediatric open heart surgery in Mwanza, Tanzania.

Dr Ilan Cohen examines Laurencia pic: Sheila Shalhevet

Laurencia Simon is four years old, the daughter of two farmers, and lives in a mud hut without electricity or running water.  Two years ago she was diagnosed with congenital heart disease.  Due to a lack of infrastructure, finance and training, doctors in Tanzania are unable to perform open heart surgery on such young children and so they were unable to help her. After hearing an announcement on the radio she and her mother settled into a three hour bus ride to Mwanza as they knew the only hope for Laurencia’s very serious heart condition was to receive care from the Save a Child’s Heart medical team.

“For the past two years, Laurencia has been too sick to go to school,” says Laurencia’s mother Paulina Bujiku, 27 yrs old.  “We’ve been coming to the Bugando medical center once a month.  But what Laurencia needs is an operation.  Thanks to Save a Child’s Heart she’s about to get it.  I’m scared, but I have faith.”

After a long surgery on Friday, Laurencia is recovering well.

“It required incredible team work to create an operating room that could meet our needs,” says Dr. Lior Sasson, Chief Surgeon Save a Child’s Heart and Head of the Cardiothoracic Surgery Department at Wolfson Medical Center.  “But we did it- we created an environment where we could carefully and conscientiously perform open heart surgery and we saved the life of little Laurencia. What can I say- I feel incredibly proud.”

Save a Child’s Heart doctors and staff worked in collaboration with the staff at the Bugando hospital in Mwanza Tanzania and Kasbian Nuriel Chirich, Honorary Consul to Israel in Tanzania, to prepare for this moment.  And all the hard work paid off, as children with heart disease came from across Tanzania to be examined by the Save a Child’s Heart team of doctors.

“There are about 200 sick Tanzanian children who will be examined by the Save a Child’s Heart team,” says Dr. Akiva Tamir, Chief cardiologist at Save a Child’s Heart and the head of the Paediatric Cardiology Unit at Wolfson Medical Centre.  “I am checking over 20 children every day and we all are committed to doing whatever it takes to help them and save their lives.”

8 to 10 paediatric heart surgeries will take place this week in Tanzania.  The rest of the children who need operations will be flown to Israel’s Wolfson hospital this upcoming year – with all expenses paid by Save a Child’s Heart.

Dr Godwin Godfrey and Dr Lior Sasson performing the surgery pic: Sheila Shalhevet

Once the surgeries are completed 13 volunteers and supporters for Save a Child’s Heart will climb Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak, to raise $1 million dollars in order to save the lives of another 100 children in Africa suffering from heart disease.

Amongst the climbers is Dr. Godwin Godfrey from Tanzania.  He has been in Israel the past three years training with Save a Child’s Heart at the Wolfson Medical Centre.  Dr. Godfrey assisted in Friday’s historic pediatric open heart surgery and will take part in all the surgeries in the coming week.

“It’s extraordinary,” says Dr. Godfrey. “I finally see my people benefit from all my hard work.  I now know that when I complete my training and return to Tanzania, I will be treating these children and doing everything I can to give them a second chance at life.”

About Save a Child’s Heart: Save a Child’s Heart is an Israel based international humanitarian project providing life-saving heart surgery and follow-up care for children from developing countries, including Africa, Iraq, the West Bank and Gaza.  Last month Save a Child’s Heart received UN special status on the ECOSOC committee and it is now an official UN NGO.

Since its inception in 1996, the Save a Child’s Heart medical team treated over 2,600 children from 42 countries and has examined and evaluated more than 6,000 children.

The Australian Pratt foundation is a generous supporter of the climb of Mount Kilimanjaro that will follow the medical mission.  The  money they donated will go towards bringing African children to Israel for paediatric open heart surgery. So…those children who are selected in Tanzania to come to Israel for operations will be able to do so partly due to the support from the Pratt Foundation.


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