Saving a child's heart in African reality.

It took me two days just to decide how I will tackle this blog post. Not because I don't have anything to say, but exactly the opposite! I have too much to share, and I just could not decide where to start! Should I start with describing the difficult conditions in the Bugando hospital in Mwanza? with the unreliable electricity current that terrifies doctors in the middle of surgery? Or the dark halls where people wait patiently for their turn to be treated, and sometimes waste all day just to be told that they will have to come back tomorrow. Something that would be completely unacceptable for any citizen in the Western world, but here, parents wouldn't even dream of complaining or giving up a rare chance of receiving critical medical treatment for their child, especially after walking for two days from some far away village, yes, walking! For two days! Maybe about the contaminated water or unsanitary toilettes, while you're feeling thankful for finding toilettes in the first place? Everything arouses mixed feelings, everything has many layers, and I did not want to flatten anything.

But I realize I cannot put everything into one post, therefore I decided to go for the human element, the children I'm meeting here, and although I would have loved to bring forth the stories of all of them, I will have to start with one.

Meet Shabani!

Shabani is a shy kid, he was embarrassed in front of my camera at first, and tried to hide behind mommy. Like the majority of the other kids here, Shabani has congenital heart disease that was diagnosed by accident when he was brought to a doctor for another reason all together, and somehow he was lucky enough to be referred to SACH (Save a child's heart).

Yesterday we interviewed Shabani and his mother for the follow up records, and today, his surgery was the second one performed by “Save a child's heart” team here in Mwanza, while the equipment boxes were still being stacked in the hall. You see, we flew from Nirobi-Kenya to Mwanza-Tanzania in a tiny plane that resembled a bus with wings, and obviously did not have room for the 101 boxes of equipment flown in from Israel, so, Simon Fisher (SACH executive director) had to stay behind and overlook the shipment of the rest of the equipment, and has been sending the essential boxes in waves, which are then picked up, brought to the hospital, unpacked and put to use immediately. The last bunch of boxes contained the heart and lung machine which arrived in the nick of time to allow the doctors to perform the open heart surgery they had scheduled for this afternoon. The last 30 boxes are expected to land this evening.

Before I go back to Shabani allow me to share an observation regarding the children that I meet here and their calm demeanor, their collaboration, their beautiful smiles and the wonderful childish innocence sparkling in their eyes. While kids are usually given light tranquilizers to undergo the tests preceding surgery, these kids just do not have that luxury, so I'm quite fascinated with the fact that they don't go into tantrums, although they have all the reasons in the world to do so. They rarely complain, they sit patiently and quietly for hours and hours (and hours!) in the waiting room. Due to the huge number of cases, we have families waiting all day for the children cardiologist to examine their kid. If this amount of children was in one waiting room for a whole day in Israel, without a fancy Cafeteria, toilettes, changing rooms, beds, TVs, iPhones and iPads, medical clowns making hats from balloons for them, and all other attractions that grab their attention for no longer than 10 minutes, it would have literally been the loudest hell you could imagine (some of you are certainly nodding right now). Since I'm rather sure that -in contrary to Western countries- Ritalin is not being distributed like candy over here, it is clearly something in their character, their education, the culture(?), or maybe the simple fact that the only angry birds they know are the humongous storks lurking on the trees outside.

I find in the eyes of these children something I almost do not find in children anymore: Plain good-old un-cynical CURIOSITY!

Why am I telling you all this? This is not to state that childhood in Africa is better, all evidence states otherwise, but I guess these kids made me think whether modernism is a sure blessing. However, all this connects back to Shabani, for I had decided to be present in his surgery. When I entered the surgery room, I had a mask on my face, but once I called Shabani by his name, he recognized the weird woman with the camera and he gazed straight into the lens with his big dreamy eyes. It's a little difficult to see a little child like this, alone, in a room filled with strangers and scary equipment, my heart went out for him. But Shabani, like the good courageous kid he is, was calm and co-operative. Maybe it's also because his family completely put their trust in the doctors as if they're angels who descended straight from heaven, which -if we disregard cynicism- they could as well be, coming all they way from Wolfson hospital in Israel to help Tanzanian children.

Dr. Lior Sasson, who trained Dr. Goodfry Godwin (read previous posts), was also present in the surgery and everything went smoothly... Well, relatively speaking. I mean, It's not the first time I attend heart surgery, but it is definitely the first time I do so in Africa! It was one of those moments that emphasize the fact that nothing we have is to be taken for granted. Our comfortable, provided for, sparkling clean lifestyle suddenly seems so far away and we all instantaneously seem spoiled. This operation room did NOT look clean, not to speak of sanitized, and yet, amazing people are doing sacred work in there. Suddenly I am overwhelmed with a need for modesty. More modesty in my own life, in the world in general, more simplicity. Not that I'm saying progress is bad, I'm just saying that one if it's bad side effects is our loss of modesty, simplicity, appreciation. I would have liked to bring teenagers to Africa, not to the Safari or the luxurious resorts, but to this hospital, so that they would realize what they have and how much of it, maybe ,just maybe, they would start to appreciate it.

No one held Shabani's hand, nor stroked his head, he went through his battle all alone, but now he's in recovery room showing great vital signs. He has a future after all! Maybe to the cynical eye it does not look like much of a future to grow up into the family business of sowing and reeping, but the thing with having a future is having possibilities. At least now, Shaban has possibilities.

Mira Awad, Mwanza, Tanzania.

Read more of my posts about my trip to Africa with SACH

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