The only physical evidence that four-month-old Nancy from Chennai, who weighs less than one kg, is alive is the rise and fall of her tiny chest as she breathes heavily in the ICU of the MIOT Hospital, Chennai. “We sleep in the hospital corridor and eat just one meal a day, but Nancy is fighting the real battle,” says her mother, who is happy at her child’s improved health, thanks to the Little Big Hearts Project of RC Meenambakkam, RID 3232. This Rotary initiative helps surgical correction of congenital heart defects (CHD) in children from underprivileged families.
So far, the club, along with TRF, Rotary clubs from RI Districts 3232, 9800 and 7040, and the Genesis Foundation, has organised 100 such surgeries on children. “This is an extremely cost-effective programme offering life-saving cardiac surgeries for children,” says B Dakshayani, Project Chairman from the lead club. In his address at an event to commemorate the project’s milestone at the MIOT Hospital, RI Director C Basker lauded the club and said, “You saw the opportunity for success not the barriers. You have made progress and are doing more… you have inspired us through this project.”
It’s okay if we sleep in the hospital corridor and eat just one meal a day, but Nancy is fighting the real battle.
-Mother of a four-month-old beneficiary of the Little Big Hearts project.
When Dakshayani found that the Genesis Foundation was looking for funds to conduct more such operations, she thought of expanding the project by roping in more partner clubs and TRF to raise funds along with this NGO partner. Canadian Rotarians and friends helped her reach out to Rotarians in Africa and Italy. “We had $30,000, which the TRF matched with $45,000.” Along with the District Designated Fund, the total amount reached $78,000.
In the general ward of the MIOT Hospital’s paediatric wing, Isaiki Sandhya, a 10-year-old girl from Chennai, is waiting to be discharged. A mentally-challenged girl, her parents took her to a medical camp where she was chosen among other children for the free CHD surgery. “Isaiki means the world to me. It is the will of God that she was brought to this hospital and underwent a successful operation despite many of our relatives asking us to abandon her,” said her father.
Srivatsan, Coordinator from Genesis Foundation, said the gender gap in children selected for the surgery has narrowed in the last few years with more girls getting benefitted. “This financial year, we have seen an almost 50–50 gender divide with girls accounting for 49 per cent of the beneficiaries. Also, the number of girls being treated rose by 11 per cent over the last year.”
Pointing out that there is no discrimination between Rotary’s paediatric patients and other children, Dr Robert Coelho, Director and Chief Paediatric Cardiac Surgeon at the MIOT Centre for Children’s Cardiac Care, cited the case of seven-month-old baby girl from Nigeria who belonged to Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian denomination that shuns blood transfusions. Dr Coelho had to perform a bloodless open-heart surgery on her. “We used a miniature heart-lung machine to prevent excessive blood loss. Haemo filters were used to remove plasma so that the blood cells remain concentrated… saving an infant’s life is much riskier,” he said.
Dr Coelho and his team have a tough time counselling the parents of such children. “The risk is worth it because you see the results in just half an hour. This child will be able to return home in a few days without the need of medication for life,” he said. The club has partnered with three hospitals in Chennai — Sooriya Hospital, Madras Medical Mission and MIOT Hospital — to conduct the 100 CHD surgeries, Dakshayani added.
Pictures by Kiran Zehra