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Have a Heart, Save a Heart

The theme for this year’s World Heart Day, on 29 September, is creating heart-healthy environments. It’s the big hearts, however, that send many of Africa’s sickest little patients home with healthy hearts. Louise Driver, CEO of the Children’s Hospital Trust, comments: 

As the CEO of the Children’s Hospital Trust, I have witnessed first-hand the numbers of children who come into the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital for cardiac surgery and treatment. There are between 300 and 400 cardiac and cardiothoracic operations every year, many of which are done on very, very young patients. A third of the patients admitted to the Red Cross Children’s Hospital are under the age of one year. In the 1950s, the first ever open-heart surgery was done on a child in South Africa at the Hospital and in the 1990s, the first paediatric heart transplant in South Africa took place at the Hospital. The Red Cross Children’s Hospital has been looking after little hearts for nearly 60 years.

It’s more than being about numbers, however. It’s about each and every single life that is changed. Thaakirah Matthews, for example, was only two-months-old when she was diagnosed with Transposition of the Great Arteries, Pulmonary Stenosis and Ventricular Septal Defect. This simply means that her two main arteries were reversed, resulting in decreased oxygen in the blood that is pumped to the rest of the body. She also had a heart valve disorder and a hole in the wall that separates the right and left chambers of the heart. Before this little patient could undergo corrective surgery, doctors found out that two abscesses were growing on her brain. It was a parent’s worst nightmare.

After emergency and very risk operations on the abscesses, Thaakirah recovered quickly in the Red Cross Children’s Hospital’s Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). However, it was just the beginning of many operations. Soon after she underwent a complex operation to correct her heart defect – a first for the Hospital. It was a long and emotional recovery process for both Thaakirah and her family, however she is now fighting fit and living a normal and happy childhood.

Thaakirah is one of many patients who struggle with heart issues and have to undergo many, many surgeries. Congenital heart disease and Rheumatic heart disease are both extremely prevalent in South Africa, sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the world. Congenital Heart Disease (CHD) is a type of heart disease a baby is born with and often refers to a defect or abnormality of the heart or blood vessels near the heart. Rheumatic heart disease is a condition where the heart muscle and heart valves are damaged due to rheumatic fever. Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the worst affected areas when it comes to Rheumatic heart disease.

This year’s World Heart Day is designed to create awareness around the places in which we live, work and play and how we can choose healthy food and smoke-free zones to ensure the health of ourselves and our families. I’d like to take this one step further. There are other ways to create awareness and support heart disease in South Africa, contributing to the health of our country and most importantly, the health of some of Africa’s sickest children.

The Children’s Hospital Trust, which fundraises to advance child healthcare through the Red Cross Children’s Hospital, has witnessed the generosity of those with big hearts who work hard, themselves, to send children home sooner through their support of the Trust and the Hospital. Many of these individuals simply donate a small amount to the Trust each month, which collectively goes an incredibly long way. Recently, the Hospital opened its brand new Medical Imaging Department, which individuals contributed over R2.2 million towards. Many of these individuals only donate R20 a month, which shows just how far a little bit can go.

As a mom of two small children, I know how important it is that we have a world-class paediatric healthcare facility available for heart diseases and other illnesses. It is an honour to experience the warmth and generosity of those who want to ensure that the Red Cross Children’s Hospital remains as such. In return, I can promise that 100% of all donations go directly to the Hospital or priority child healthcare programmes and not a single cent is spent on operational expenses.

This World Heart Day, we’re asking each of you to have a heart and save a heart. Sign up to become a monthly giver online or SMS  ‘Give’ to 45486 and we’ll call you back.  That way you can indicate how much you wish to donate monthly and we’ll sign you up. Standard SMS rates apply.

Thank you to all of our longstanding supporters who have such big hearts.


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