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Aug 31, 2005

Young heart patients receive “gift of life”

Story PictureWe have run many stories over the past fifteen years detailing the generous work of doctors from abroad who have made a life and death difference for hundreds of Belizean families. Today, I was reacquainted with one set of volunteers who, year after year, continue to institutionalise miracles.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting
They have come from all over the country: anxious parents and sick children, filling the corridors of the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital, desperate to be examined by U.S. heart specialists in Rotary Club’s Gift of Life Program.

Armed with the latest in medical technology, paediatrician Dr. James Huhta and his team are tasked with determining which children will require additional medical care not available in Belize.

Dr. James Huhta, Paediatrician
“This machine is from the General Electric Corporation and they’ve loaned it to us specifically for this purpose, to come here and to examine children, to look at their heart anatomy, which we can see with the ultrasound and also with Doppler ultra-sound we can measure the blood flows in the heart. So this allows us to tell what’s going on and give us almost a complete diagnosis, so this is a big advance. Plus this machine is portable, so now we can carry it right on the plane with us and allows us to bring almost the most sophisticated technology available for echocardiography right here to Karl Heusner hospital.”

The patients diagnosed with life threatening conditions will be referred to hospitals in the United States where doctors there will perform the necessary surgeries free of cost.

Seven-month old Denfield Barry is one of the young patients waiting in line. Doctors here have already discovered a hole in the infant’s heart. Without surgery, his chances of survival are slim.

Enelida Barry, Mother
“Actually dah just when he mi born the doctors find out that he have it. From then he been in and out off and on… have to tek medication and things like that, but they say they mi wah send ah outside fu mek he could get a operation, so I just di wait pan that.”

Janelle Chanona
“What’s it like for you, seeing your baby like this?”

Enelida Barry
“Well, it kind of rough because you noh know if you could help them, if they wah could live or what.”

Seventeen-year-old Natasha Tate also wants a chance at a normal life. Through Gift of Life, she is one of the lucky few who will get the surgery she needs.

Natasha Tate, 17 years old
“I have an enlarged heart and water round the lungs and like anytime I walk, it mek I just breathe short so I can’t do nothing.”

Janelle Chanona
“Are you nervous about going?”

Natasha Tate

Janelle Chanona
“But you are looking forward to feeling better?”

Natasha Tate
“Yeah, cause I wah do what I does do first.”

Janelle Chanona
“What was that?”

Natasha Tate
“Be wah pom pom girls.”

In operation for more than two decades, today Rotary Belize is able to give as many as fourteen children a year the gift of better health.

Yvette Burkes, Programme Coordinator, Gift of Life
“We’ve sent well over a hundred kids and in the that I have been involved in the programme, I have had three deaths: one child was actually, never made it, on the plane that child died, we’ve have two children who died, one after surgery and one at the hospital still during surgery. But when you consider the odds, these are children who would never ever been able to afford the surgery. It used to be around fifty thousand U.S. dollars, just the surgery and that’s with the doctors donating their cost. And as you know, cost of living has gone up, we are talking well up to a hundred thousand dollars for a straightforward case.”

One of the club’s success stories is that of four-year-old Genesis Alvarez. With Rotary’s help, she has undergone eight surgeries in Omaha, Nebraska, to correct a cardiac condition and tracheal problem… the first when she was just four months old. Today, the little girl is happy, healthy, and eager to come home.

Yvonne Moore, Coordinator, Rotary Club of Belize
“It may be my maternal instincts that is causing me to get so deeply involved with it, but it’s one of the greatest pleasures to see a child come out of a major illness and is able to function normally and be a productive citizen.”

Rotary estimates that on average, it costs the club approximately three thousand dollars per child to facilitate their trip to the medical facilities abroad. In the case of Genesis Alvarez alone, her bills tally to a whopping two hundred and fifty thousand U.S. dollars.

Tonight the organization is pleading for the public assistance in ensuring that this valuable programme has a long life.

Sandra McKay, President, Rotary Club of Belize
“Coming up next week, we have a fundraiser at Old Belize for the ninth of September night, it’s called Baymen night and it’s a good way for the Belizean public to come out and support a Gift of Life fundraiser, so that we can continue to have these funds. Our efforts have been ongoing…persons are probably wondering why it is that they are always raising for Gift of Life, but this is the reason, very costly and we are helping, as Yvette said, up to fourteen kids a year, so we need the Belizean public’s support.”

Tonight we understand that Genesis Alvarez is due to undergo one final check-up before coming home for good in early October. This is the eighth trip Dr. Huhta has made to Belize to examine children with heart conditions. His visit this year was made possible through Continental Airlines. If you or someone you know has a heart condition, you are advised to visit your local physician first as he or she will then be in a position to refer your case to the Gift of Life Annual Heart Clinic.

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