Their journey was long and arduous but they finally made it. 11 families traveled from their homeland of Guyana to a small, remote village called Jimani, Dominican Republic to have their hearts healed, at no cost, provided by the miracle workers of the Babyheart team. Located in the very center of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola on the DR side just across the border from Haiti, this place is at the crossroads of where some of the poorest of the poor in the Western hemisphere meet. However, this place, a former goat field, is where miracles began to happen. The Interntional Children’s Heart Foundation, in partnership with Chadasha Foundation and the Caribbean Children’s Foundation, came to this hospital to perform heart surgeries, free of charge on children long suffering from congenital heart defects. The first children to ever be seen and operated on at the Chadasha hospital, are from Guyana.
Nothing more than a goat field at one time, ICHF’s sister charity, the ministerial Chadasha Foundation, built a campus in Jimani that contains a medical clinic, a chapel and an orphanage. Immediately following the 2010 earthquake it became a major source of medical care for thousands of injured Haitians.
These families, already struggling with children suffering from heart defects, and the long waits to visit their general practitionaer doctor, then the specialist, then a pediatric cardiologist, if there was one near them, who could offer a decent evaluation. If they could just get on the plane and get to Jimani and have their hearts fixed. If it were only that simple. None of these families who are educated and work very hard for their livelihood can afford their children’s heart surgery, much less the plane ticket to Dominican Republic. Then ICHF and Chadasha leadership approached the Children’s Caribbean Foundation and they came through with the funds to fly the children and up to 2 parents (although many came with one parent) to the Dominican Republic. The flight in itself was a task. Their route started in Georgetown then to Trinidad, to Panama City, then to Santo Domingo where they boarded a Chadasha-provided bus for the 6 hour drive to Jimani. 3,000 total miles of travelling, all based on pure hope, the hope that somebody finally told their children YES to lifesaving heart surgery. The International Children’s Heart Foundation said yes, and made this little village in Jimani a place where hope truly comes to life.
The first child ever to receive heart surgery in the Chadasha hospital was Nevelian. or as her mother Natasha calls her, Valina. She just turned 14 years old and suffers from a superior sinus venosus defect, also known as an atrial septal defect (ASD), that caused a constant cough and shortness of breath. Her doctors in Guyana told Natasha her daughter would not live past 7. When asked what her mother hopes for she answered, “No hope, we know with Babyheart here Nevelian will be fine and grow up to be an adult.”
Following Nevelian were the successful surgeries of Marissa, Rayanne, Aaliyah, and Divine (pictured). All did great and are recovering well back home in Guyana. Marissa came with her mother, Kayanda who says Marissa was missing school due to her heart condition, in this case a Tetralogy of Fallot. We are happy Marissa is healed and will soon be getting back to school. She is so very intelligent and we are sure we will hear one day that she is going to become a doctor in her home country of Guyana. Rayanne survived with her heart defect, a double chambered RV with VSD, and it was heart-warming to see her mother doing her hair before surgery. Need to look good for your newly healed heart! Aaliyah came with her grandfather who was very grateful to the Babyheart team. “We give God thanks and praise,” he said, “to continue to help Babyheart on their mission!” Aaliyah’s case was unique. She suffered from a defect called Anamolous left coronary artery from the pulmonary artery, otherwise known as ALCAPA. ICHF founder, Dr. William Novick invented a procedure to correct this defect which he wrote about in a published article from 2009 (link below) that Dr. Kathleen Fenton used on this very trip! She writes about the surgery in this post below. The medical team members were fascinated with images from her surgery, included in this post. The show-stealing star of the trip was Divine Daniels, a beautiful little 15 month old girl who knows how to play to the camera. She was very feisty and energetic and a lot of fun to be around.
There was one special family that also made the long journey to Jimani, Mark and Sherry Jetto, with their son, Samuel. They named him Samuel for being such a strong and biblical name. A strong baby he was. He showed up diagnosed with a very large ASD and PDA. The team gravitated to him and he made everyone around him smile. The love this family showed resounded with the team and all the other families there. He had a long and difficult procedure. His father, Mark, would pass the time by making himself very useful around the hospital. He helped keep the area clean by mopping the hallways and helped biomedical engineer, Roy Morris, fix the lifting mechanism in one of the operating tables. Samuel’s operation was grueling. He continued to lose blood and Greg of Chadasha donated blood. Later that night Dr. Hernandez donated blood. PICU nurse Dusty said she relished the opportunity to actually draw blood from a pediatric cardiovascular surgeon! Samuel Jetto fought all night. Frank Molloy and PICU team were up with him every step of the way keeping him alive until his tiny heart could fight no more. It’s always terribly sad whenever a life is lost but more so when the Babyeart team lives with and spends significant time with the child and their family as with the Jettos in Jimani. Little Samuel Jetto will always be loved and never forgotten by Babyheart. Please click below for a tribute video in his honor and remembrance.
Samuel Tribute Video
The story of newly healed hearts is complete for the children mentioned above but for others, the story still continues. Some others were unable to received treatment in Jimani and had to wait. At this moment they are in Santiago, Dominican Republic with another Babyheart team. Always good on their word and never turning any children away this Babyheart team will operate on the other children from Guyana, such as Josh Hutson who has difficulty just walking up a flight of stairs. Their journey for a new heart is almost complete.
Guest blogger — Dr. Kathleen Fenton, Pediatric Cardiac Surgeon, Babyheart
Eleven-year-old Aaliyah did not fit the plan for our first trip to Jimani: her heart problem was not simple, and it was not common. She was born with anomalous left coronary from the pulmonary artery, commonly called “ALCAPA.” This heart problem is rare: it is seen only in somewhere between 1 in 30,000 and 1 in 300,000 children, and it is often lethal in early infancy. Somehow, though, Aaliyah had survived, even though most of the blood that entered through her normally-connected right coronary artery ran off out the left side into the lungs, without bringing oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle itself. This had caused her coronary arteries to all dilate to several times the normal size, and left her very thin and always tired. Because her echocardiogram indicated that hopefully no permanent damage had been done to her heart muscle, though, we thought she could be helped by an operation that is most commonly successful when performed in small infants.
At the time of her surgery, the left coronary artery was confirmed to be attached to the pulmonary artery rather than the aorta, where it should have been, and as we suspected from the echocardiogram it was coming off the side of the pulmonary artery far away from the aorta, much too far to simply take it off and reimplant it where it should be. The repair was successfully performed using a coronary artery extension technique developed and published by ICHF founder Dr. Novick, in which a ring of pulmonary artery is used to make a tube that allows the coronary artery to reach the aorta. Aaliyah came through the surgery with flying colors and was up walking early the next day!
Dr. Novick’s ALCAPA publication ALCAPA
The journey continues. Another Babyheart team is now in Dominican Republic, this time in Santiago to rendezvous with the Guyanan children still in need of surgery and to evaluate new Dominican children waiting to receive the gift of a newly healed heart. During Heart Awareness Month let us all pledge to support these kids in desperate need of new hearts. Don’t forget them and keep their hearts within yours. Please donate today by clicking the link to the right.
Check back with our blog in a couple weeks to learn about the outcomes of the children from Guyana and the other beautiful children from the Santiago mission with healed hearts!