June 13, 2024

Children in the Middle East have received life-saving heart surgery as part of an initiative to help those in need of complex medical procedures.

About 10 children from Libya, Egypt and Tunisia were among the first beneficiaries of the Golden Heart Initiative, with others set to have operations in the coming months.

The initiative aims to deliver free surgery to 50 children in urgent need of complex, life-changing procedures, and marks 50 years of philanthropy by Lulu Group chairman Yusuff Ali MA and VPS Healthcare.

Procedures on children with congenital heart diseases in conflict zones or whose families are in financial difficulty are being carried out at hospitals in the UAE, Oman and India.

Across countries, we are identifying patients in need, ensuring that this initiative extends its healing touch to those who need it the most

Dr Shamsheer Vayalil, chairman of Burjeel Holdings of VPS Healthcare

Mouheb, an 11-month-old from Libya diagnosed with Tetralogy of Fallot – a rare congenital defect that affects blood flow through the heart, is one of the children who has benefited from the initiative.

Dr Mourad Hakim, Mouheb’s doctor, said the baby’s condition had been severe.

“Immediate surgery was imperative, as any delay could worsen the infant’s condition, resulting in heightened cyanosis – a bluish discolouration of the skin and mucous membranes due to insufficient oxygen in the blood – and heart hypertrophy,” Dr Hakim said. “This posed considerable challenges for the surgical outcome.”

Mouheb’s parents, Abdelrazak Mohammed and Mawaddah, travelled from Libya to Tunisia for the life-saving operation at Clinic Taoufik, under the Taoufik Hospitals Group.

“We were waiting to meet the finances for the surgery for several months,” said Mr Mohammed, who works in health care in Libya. “But with the help of this initiative, we were able to get this surgery in one week. Now we hope he can live a normal life like his peers.”

Comprehensive care

The family had access to surgery and comprehensive care, provided free of charge by Dr Shamsheer Vayalil, founder and chairman of Burjeel Holdings, who launched the initiative through VPS Healthcare.

VPS Healthcare invited families to apply for the operations after speaking to doctors in Libya to identify critical cases in need of urgent care.

Elsewhere, parents submitted medical reports to apply for free procedures in India and across the Middle East.

Chaabani, a nine-year-old from Tunisia, was operated on for multiple ventricular septal defects (VSDS), also known as “holes in the heart”, having already undergone pulmonary artery banding, a surgical technique to reduce excessive blood flow.

The Golden Heart Initiative initiative has changed the lives of many families, including parents Sami Ali Al Turki and Sireen Ayad Suisse, whose baby Elias was diagnosed with a heart problem resulting from gestational diabetes.

“This initiative was a ray of hope when we were on the brink of despair,” said Mr Al Turki, who works in the Libyan electricity industry. “From the moment we were contacted with the news that Elias was one of the first recipients of this initiative, it took just a week for our baby to be admitted to Clinic Taoufik and undergo this life-saving surgery.

“We are sincerely grateful to the exceptional medical staff for their prompt response and efficient co-ordination.”

Glimmer of hope

For Madlin and Medhat, parents of five-year-old Mariam from Egypt, the initiative brought a glimmer of hope.

They had sought medical advice over Mariam’s noticeably smaller stature and stunted growth, which had become a source of bullying and challenges for her.

Doctors identified a congenital heart condition, complex atrial septal defect (ASD), as the underlying issue, which could not be treated with conventional catheterisation procedures.

It required major surgery at Nile Badrawi Hospital, one of the facilities of Cleopatra Hospitals Group.

Mariam’s doctors Dr Mahmoud Shehata, a consultant in paediatric cardiology, and Professor Ahmed Afifi, a cardiac surgery consultant, said the swift decision to carry out surgery avoided any further complications.

“We performed an ASD open-heart patch surgery to repair the septal defect,” said Prof Afifi. “We now expect Mariam to lead a better quality of life with her appetite and activity levels returning.”

The other children who have undergone life-saving surgery under the initiative are between 10 months and nine years old.

More operations will be carried out in specialist hospitals under the umbrella of Burjeel Holdings, across the UAE and Oman, as well as Dr Vayalil’s hospitals in India.

“We are proud to see that the Golden Heart Initiative is contributing to a healthier and brighter future for these little ones,” said Dr Vayalil. “Across countries, we are identifying patients in need, ensuring that this initiative extends its healing touch to those who need it the most.”

Parents can submit applications, along with the child’s medical report and contact details, to [email protected].

Updated: February 01, 2024, 2:04 PM

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