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Aug 26, 2022

Gift of Life Belize Back in Belize to Assist Congenital Heart Disease Patients

The Rotary Club of Belize and the Gift of Life Program have been providing care to congenital heart disease patients in Belize for over a decade. Annually, the organizations host U.S. doctors in Belize to diagnose children suffering from the disease and to counsel their parents. The team of doctors is currently in country. On Thursday, they held a health clinic in Dangriga. Today, the team was in Belize City. News Five’s Paul Lopez visited the Rotary Club where he spoke with one individual whose life was saved through this mission seventeen years ago. Here is that report.


Paul Lopez, Reporting

Fifteen years ago, at the age of seventeen, Sharissa Perez underwent a life-saving heart surgery, through Rotary Club Belize and the Gift of Life Belize.


Sharissa Perez

Sharissa Perez, Gift of Life Volunteer

“I was diagnosed with Supraventricular Tachycardia. Tachycardia means the heart is being too fast. So, my symptoms were, your heart is supposed to beat, when you are calm, between a hundred to sixty beats per minute. I was hitting three hundred. I would sensations here, feeling faint, wanting to use the bathroom, to vomit, pain in my arm. Laughing caused an attack, being mad caused an attack, being scared caused an attack. It was so bad I had to get treated.”


That is when American pediatric nurse practitioner Heidi Hess met Sharissa. Hess was on a mission with the Rotary Club Belize to diagnose children suffering from congenital heart disease.


Heidi Hess

Heidi Hess, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner 

“When we find a patient who has Supraventricular Tachycardia, tachycardia meanings too fast, we have to take the patient into the hospital, bring them into a special room called a CAT Lab. There we have some very complicated computers that actually do a mapping, of her heart. They have to cause the heart to gointo the bad rhythm so; they can map it and see where the wrong circuit, thinking like a short circuit on wiring, and you want to stop it from going the wrong way.”

Hess has been returning to Belize to serve since. Sharissa now gives back to her community through the organization.


Sharissa Perez

“I am able to have a normal life. I could play. I could have fun. I could exercise. I could walk. I could exert my heart, something as simple as laughing would cause my palpitations to starts. So being able to laugh, being to be mad, to cry, to be happy, it is insane that simple things like that I was not able to do.”


Paul Lopez

“So you have gotten a new lease on laughter.”


Sharissa Perez

“Definitely, and I take advantage of it.”


One in a hundred children suffers from congenital heart disease. Two of the most common forms identified in Belize over the years are ventricular septal defect, also known as a hole in the heart, and heart valve problems. Some cases may be mild and may not require surgery. Pediatric Cardiologist Doctor Gul Dadlani shared a couple symptoms.


Gul Dadlani

Dr. Gul Dadlani, Pediatric Cardiologist,

“We have some cases where we are able to tell parents your baby will be able to live a long healthy life. Sometimes we have to tell them bad news where they have a bad form of congenital heart disease that can’t be repaired as well. For all families we recommend your child being seen by a pediatrician. If your pediatrician or child’s doctor hears a heart murmur or if you are a baby and you have cyanosis, which is blueness around the lips, fast breathing, poor feeding, those can be heart related symptoms in infants. If you are an older child and you have chest pain or your heart fast rate, those can also be heart related signs you can look out for.”

Reporting for News Five, I am Paul Lopez.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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