– Dr Gary Stephens
By Sharmain Cornette
“Do I have to do another surgery?” was the urgent concern of six-year-old Jeneen Henry when she awoke from open-heart surgery yesterday morning. The first grade St Margaret’s Primary School student was at the time directing her concern to a nurse as she lay in the recovery room of the Caribbean Heart Institute (CHI).
The young girl, since last year, was diagnosed with a hole in her heart and was identified as one of the 11 persons to be operated on at the first local attempt at paediatric open-heart surgery. The operations are being undertaken by a visiting 14-member United States-based medical team.
According to Jeneen’s mother, Nichole Wilkinson, who hails from the West Bank of Demerara, she had no idea that her daughter had a heart condition until she was five years old. She recounted that Jeneen had a constant cold, adding that no form of medication seemed strong enough to dispel the symptoms. As a result, the understandably anxious mother decided to take her daughter for a complete check-up at a private hospital.
“I just asked the doctor to give her a thorough check-up and he told me there was a murmuring in her heart beat.”
Not willing to accept that her daughter had a heart condition Wilkinson said that she sought a second opinion from another doctor who delivered an identical finding. She was also advised to take Jeneen to the CHI for an echocardiogram. It was late last year, Wilkinson recalled, that the test was conducted and revealed that there was an opening of the left valve of her daughter’s heart. The situation was deemed crucial by CHI officials who advised that surgery be undertaken within two years to correct the defect and prevent Jeneen from becoming sick. “Right before the surgery she was ok…running and jumping and everything. Nothing was really wrong with her. The only problem besides the cold was that she would keep getting a sore throat…They told me that the sore throat was mainly due to the heart condition,” Wilkinson related.
Expressing gratitude that surgery was not long in coming, Wilkinson said that she couldn’t be more pleased with the expert operation of the visiting medical team and the CHI staff.
“I couldn’t be happier. The team came in and they called us and we were lucky to be a part of this…” Wilkinson confessed. “She is doing well and they are taking such good care of her…but we are all praying for a full recovery.”
Prayers are also in abundance for two-year-old Udesh Ragubar who was operated on Monday afternoon. Udesh’s operation was regarded as very crucial and had preceded Jeneen’s surgery. His mother, Urmilla Luckhoo, was high in praises yesterday for the operation which was made available free of cost.
According to Luckhoo, she travelled with her son from Edinburgh, East Bank Berbice, in the quest to seek medical attention and is anxiously awaiting the day that he recovers fully. She recalls that Udesh was just about nine months old when he was diagnosed with a hole in his heart.
“He had this blowing, we thought it was cold he had, and so we carry him to New Amsterdam and they say it wasn’t cold…It was a hole in his heart.”
This disclosure was confirmed after an echocardiogram was conducted at CHI. And since CHI was not offering open-heart paediatric surgery at the time, Luckhoo said that her son attended clinic regularly at the New Amsterdam hospital. She said he was given medication to help suppress the heart defect, adding that two months had elapsed and he had not improved. She related that the child’s finger nails, lips, toes and eyes took on a striking bluish colour which she later learnt was due to the heart condition.
“We came back to CHI and they told us that he needed surgery urgently.”
Though several persons were willing to help, Luckhoo said that she was told that surgery was only available overseas. It was with the help of a few medical experts and some members of the public that measures were being put in place to facilitate an operation for Udesh. The family wasted no time in putting together every possible cent they could have afforded and solicited financial help from the public. They were able to raise about $500,000 when Luckhoo received a call from renowned businessman, George Subraj who resides in the United States. He is the owner of a very successful business, Zara Realty in Queens, New York, and had committed to financially assisting the introduction of paediatric open-heart surgery at CHI a few months ago. Having learnt of Udesh’s plight, Subraj volunteered to help.
The funds that were raised will be used to purchase medication for Udesh to aid his recuperation, according to his grandmother Basmattie Thomas.
“They tell we after the surgery he will need a lot of medication and we will need a lot of money to do that too. This sick he got he can’t just pull through right away.”
And it has not been easy on the family, Thomas said, as she has been travelling back and forth from Berbice every day. Nonetheless she is very thankful to all those who helped towards making Udesh’s operation a reality.
The child’s father, Nandalall Ragubar, could do nothing but cry when he first saw the youngest of his four children shortly after the completion of the surgery.
Mrs Nowatee Subraj (Mr Subraj’s wife) could not contain herself yesterday as she observed the many lives that her family has been able touch by supporting the historic venture at the CHI.
“I am happy to see all of these children recovering who needed help so bad because they were so sick…”
As at yesterday, two patients Nirvanie Browne and Bharrat Narine were discharged from CHI and are expected to complete their recovery at home. Three remaining surgeries were expected to be completed before the end of yesterday. However, CHI’s Chief Executive Officer , Dr Gary Stephens, noted that the team will remain in Guyana for another three days to monitor the patients before returning to the United States. He has expressed complete satisfaction with the operations that have been undertaken.
“We did what we came to do and I couldn’t be more pleased with what we have been able to do.”
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