Mended Hearts in Kenya

December 5, 2013 • Kenya

Children have successful open-heart surgeries at a hospital supported by Samaritan's Purse

When Grace Achieng saw her 18-month old daughter, Faith, for the first time after the child had open-heart surgery, her worried face broke into a smile. She clasped her hands over her own heart and reached out to her child, caressing her face and telling her how much she loved her.

“I thank God,” Grace said. “I am so happy. When she is older, I will always tell her the story of what God did for her.”

Help Build A Mission HospitalFaith was among nine children who recently had delicate open-heart surgery at Tenwek Hospital, a remote mission hospital in Kenya, about 140 miles northwest of Nairobi.

The hospital might be remote, but the facilities are top-notch. The operations took place in a well-equipped operating theater, constructed with the help of Samaritan’s Purse.

The facilities were put to good use by the cardiac team from the United States that performed the surgeries. With a slight variation in members, the team has come to Tenwek Hospital every year since 2008.

“It’s a calling,” said Dr. Bret Mettler, the cardiac surgeon on the team. “There is such a great need here in Kenya. It’s an important thing to do.”

A lack of quality facilities and qualified physicians means that children with life-threatening heart problems in Kenya are often placed on long waiting lists or are told to seek medical care abroad, causing many anguished parents to lose hope.

Dr. Mettler and Dr. Russ White, the chief surgeon at Tenwek Hospital, performed the heart surgeries together. Dr. White has served at Tenwek Hospital since 1997.

“I never anticipated that we would be doing heart surgery at Tenwek,” Dr. White said. “We are now at a stage where we can do the adult cases that are lower risk here year-round.”

With the participation of visiting teams like the one that served at Tenwek Hospital last week, Tenwek has become a major center for heart surgeries and repair procedures in Kenya.

“Tenwek Hospital performs approximately half the cardiac surgery done in the country.” Dr. White said. “There are a lot more kids that need care than we can deliver in one week, and the needs out there are enormous.”

Every parent shared Grace’s relief when they learned that the heart surgery on their child was successful and first saw their boy or girl in the Intensive Care Unit.

“God is wonderful!” said Amos Masonik, after his daughter, Prudence, returned from surgery. “We are so thankful to the Lord for saving our child. We thank all of the doctors. We thank all of you for what you have done.”

In addition to the nine open-heart surgeries that were completed, a second team performed heart repair procedures that included six mitral balloon valvuloplasties, one aortic valvuloplasty, and the installation of a dual chamber pacemaker.

Dr. Rajib, a cardiac surgeon from Nepal, joined interventional cardiologist Dr. Ron Johannsen and cardiologist Dr. Tom Doyle from the United States to preform the procedures.

“Mitral balloon valvuloplasty procedures are typically performed in million-dollar cath labs,” said Dr. Ron Johannsen. “With the assistance of Dr. Rajib, who has done more than 1,000 of these procedures, we were able to show that it can be done in Third World settings in a safe, clinically effective, and cost effective way.”

Some of the children were too young to understand what they had gone through and will only hear the story told to them by their parents. But others, like 12-year-old Ian Kiriago, will remember every detail.

Ian bounced back from his heart surgery with a smile. Within hours, he was sitting up in a wheel chair, flashing victory signs, and trying to convince the nurses to give him soda to drink.

Although Ian was a comedian in the ICU, he knew that his successful surgery was a blessing from God.

“I am so happy,” Ian said. “I thank God, and I will praise Him always! My heart was not working right, but God touched my heart, and He healed me. I will never forget. I will always praise Him.”