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Jan 29, 2009

Rotary holds Gift of Life clinic for kids

Story PictureHeart diseases are often deadly and medical science has shown they are non-discriminatory and can afflict young and old. In Belize there is one organization whose trademark is to help children access free medical treatment, that is the Rotary Club of Belize. This week the organization has been holding pediatric heart clinics under its Children’s Gift of Life Programme. Marion Ali was at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital for one of the clinics.

Marion Ali, Reporting
Tuesday was about as normal a day as it gets for any one of these young citizens as they sat waiting their turn at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital to see a heart specialist from Nebraska. Many of these little ones, have either since birth or soon after, been suffering from some type of heart condition, often times so severe that it cannot be treated in Belize. But the plight of these children and many more like them has been made easier since the mid-seventies when the Rotary Club of Belize introduced its Children’s Gift of Life programme.

Maria Price, President-Elect, Rotary Club of Belize
“They’re either referred by the physicians or the parents recognize if there’s a problem and they’re not certain what’s wrong with the child and because it’s a free clinic they come in and they put down their names. We call them after a while and they get weighed, they get measured and they go in and see the doctor and they determine whether or not they do have a problem.”

But for those who do have a problem, Rotary’s President-Elect, Maria Price says there is hope.

Maria Price
“Maybe they only have a whole in their heart and that just needs to be plugged. Some of them are really serious and they need open heart surgery so what the pediatric cardiologist does is really determine the extent of the problem that the child has and then prioritize actually when the child should go if they need immediate attention or if they can wait for a while.”

Dr. Karl Gumbiner is one of the physicians who makes those priority decisions.

Dr. Karl Gumbiner, Padeiatric Cardiologist, Nebraska
“We’ve seen many different problems. We’ve seen small babies who are not growing well, several small babies who are very blue and have very serious heart deformities. I’ve seen a twenty year old woman with chest pan, I’ve just seen this little boy who has a slow heart rate. So we see a wide spectrum of heart defects.”

Eight year-old Jermaine Tillett Junior’s heart condition was diagnosed from infancy. His mother, Karen Reyes, told News Five that he has been in doctor’s offices for most of his life.

Karen Reyes, Mother of Jermaine Tillett, Jr.
“First time we knew that he was sick was when he was months old and we were told that he had two holes in his heart. We brought him here and the specialists they came and they told us that were going to be doing a follow-up every year for him to see how he progresses. We’ve been doing that for the past six and a half years.”

After a full exam, the prognosis was good and Dr. Gumbiner concluded that with medication, Jermaine should be alright for now.

Dr. Karl Gumbiner
“Jermaine has what we call a complete heart block. The electrical connection between the upper part of his heart and the lower part of his heart did not form in correctly. So he has a very slow heart rate and eventually he will need a pace-maker. But he’s doing fine without it for now so we will wait to put the pace maker in until he needs it.”

Five-month old Liani Mai’s family traveled from Orange Walk Town to see the specialist.

Giovani Mai, Father of Liani Mai
“From when ih mi three months ih mi ketch wah lee seizure so wen time we bring ah den dehn seh dah sake ah ih heart. So den—cause ih five months right now and we just bring ah again nineteenth ah January right yah so dehn tell we fi come yah.”

Dr. Karl Gumbiner
“We will hopefully find a place in the U.S. that can perform rather complicated operations. One of the babies that I saw who’s really quite sick also has down syndrome and her prospects are actually not very good. So it would be difficult to find a center that be able to perform the very complicated operations—she’ll need more than one—for this little girl with down syndrome. We’re gonna try very hard though.”

The opportunity these children have to access free advance heart treatment would not be possible were it not for the Rotary Club’s fundraising efforts.

Maria Price
“We are gearing up to have the play in summer. It’s something with Pinnochio. We haven’t settled on the name as yet but you know we take all the fairytales and we do something with them. We’ve done Cinderellisha, we’ve done different ones and this year we’re going to do Pinnochio. So we are casting right now.”

Yvette Burks, Coordinator, Rotary Gift of Life Prog.
“We will try to send out about sixteen patients if we can find the placement. We’re hoping to have a fundraiser on the fourteenth of February is going to help us with that cause; raffle of the truck and the property.”

Marion Ali
“Can you give us a ballpark figure what this kind of treatment or surgery cost?”

Leroy Swedlund, Rotarian, Omaha, Nebraska
“If it’s surgery it’s over a hundred thousand dollars U.S. and if it’s treatment, its probably just twenty-five thousand dollars but that’s still pretty expensive”

Marion Ali
“These patients that are treated, they live a normal healthy life?”

Leroy Swedlund
“Most of them, yes. Once in a while, unfortunately, they don’t. But that’s the goal; to give a normal life and healthy life and grow old like we all want to.”

Fransin Murrillo Cain teaches music at Pallotti High School but she has one commonality with these children. While still a child, Cain suffered rheumatic fever which eventually developed into rheumatic heart disease. Her condition was not detected until five years ago. Cain was finally able to undergo surgery one month ago.

Fransin Murrillo Cain, Heart Patient
“They start with medication and they told me that eventually I will have to do a valve transplant because my valve is closing. I got real ill, couldn’t work, couldn’t walk far the fifteenth of September last year. So I was off medically and I was just back and forth going to doctor, in and out of the hospital. Every week I was in the hospital for like three days and then my last dilemma was a stroke.”

But while Rotary’s program does not cater much to adults, Cain managed to get the help through a lot of petitioning from her students’ families.

Yvette Burks
“Fransin’s was basically like any other adults that I’ve ever done; I had to get certain information from the local cardiologist. She was seen by both local cardiologists and both of them were extremely helpful and knowledgeable so they were able to give me the information and requirements. It’s not just about having a video of the heart, but you need to have other information. So they supplied that and I was able to send that forward to the locations that we referred her to and thank God they accepted her case based on the information that was forwarded. The Ts were crossed, the I’s were dotted and that made it possible.”

Heart conditions sometimes demand life-changing adjustments, but it’s a small price to pay for a new lease on life.

Fransin Murillo Cain
“I gotta make sure that I don’t eat any cholesterol food; the fried chicken and those things are out. I gotta make sure that I don’t life anything; I’m not allowed to lift anything five gallon or more. Also, I’m not allowed to exercise at this point but the best exercise is walking. They allow me to do a lot of walking and apart from that I’m gonna be fine.”

Karen Reyes
“He has a lot of friends and that’s one of the things that I like about Jermaine. He doesn’t keep away from kids and he likes playing.”

Marion Ali
“And he does well in school?”

Karen Reyes
“He’s doing very well right now.”

Reporting for News Five, Marion Ali.

Dr. Gumbiner and the Rotary Club move down to the Southern Regional Hospital in Dangriga where they will examine young heart patients from the south. Meanwhile, Yvette Burks advises that because the programme does not cater to adults, it is difficult to find free placement for them. She says no one over the age of forty-five has ever received open heart surgery through the programme. As for Rotary’s fundraisers, aside from its summer play featuring Pinnochio, it also has a raffle set for February fourteenth. Each ticket worth a hundred dollars entitles you to win either the first prize, which is a 2009 Nissan Navarro pick-up truck or a house lot at University Heights in Belmopan, or both prizes. That’s because once you purchase a ticket, your name is entered into both draws.

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