Paul was born in November 2006. He was actually born twins. A few days after the twins were born, it was noticed that Paul was not active as his twin brother. His breathing pattern was irregular; hence he was taken to the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital. The doctors diagnosed pneumonia. After the treatment, the problem persisted, and he was taken for further medical examination. That was when it was discovered that Paul had a problem of the heart. Since then, his parents who are civil servants had been running around to get him healed.
Paul’s heart condition severely incapacitated him. Most times, his twin brother would want to drag him to play, but Paul usually found this very difficult. It was so severe at the beginning until a minor surgery was done on him at the ABU Teaching Hospital and a stunt was planted on him.
When the minor surgery was done, Paul’s father took a loan of N700, 000 from the bank while his mother also took another loan to the tune of N500, 000 and both sums went with the treatment. In all, they had spent between N1.5 to 2 million on the poor child.
That minor surgery allowed Paul to attend school regularly. In spite of that, he was not as active as his twin brother. His breathing pattern was still irregular and he easily got weak.
After the minor surgery, his parents were advised to prepare him for major surgery and were warned that if they delayed the stunt could get weak and Paul would relapse to his former condition. The parents were then referred to National Hospital, Abuja where the doctors recommended taking him to either India or China. It was not easy for Paul’s parents as they were asked to source for between 2.5 to 3 million naira. As civil servants, there was nowhere the parents could get that kind of money.
That was the precarious situation in which Paul lived until the First Lady, Dame Patience
Jonathan came to his rescue through her A.Aruera Reachout Foundation.
There are many children all over the world suffering from heart disease, which has led to the death of many of them. If help had not come to Paul on time, he would have been among the sad casualty cases recorded on daily basis to this problem.
Heart disease is a severe burden when it afflicts adults, but it can be more tragic when its victims are children. However, with advances in medicine and technology many children with heart disease can now go on to live normal and active lives.
According to specialists on heart problem, there are two major types of heart problems in children known as congenital and acquired. It is said that congenital heart defects develop before birth when the baby’s heart is forming in the womb. At the moment, the cause and prevention of most of these problems are unknown. Statistics reveal that on the average, for every 1000 births, six to eight babies have congenital heart defects. Some mild heart defects among children are said to require no treatment. But those defects, ranging from moderate to severe, are recommended to be treated for the child to be able to live normal life.
The second type of heart problem among children is acquired heart disease. This occurs after birth and this condition usually results from damage done to the heart by a disease, virus or bacteria.
Heart failure is an important cause of morbidity and mortality among children. According to a recent study, of the total of 391 children presented at the paediatric emergency at the Ladoke Akintola University, within a six months period, 35 representing 9.0% presented with heart failure. The 35 children consisted of 21 boys and 14 girls.
Across the world, it is said that one in every 500 live birth has a hole in the heart while 0.8 percent of live births, has heart problem. These figures are said to be higher in the developing countries where exposure to x-ray, concussion, fake and substandard drugs and maternal infections, alcoholism and malnutrition are significant external factors affecting the organs of the foetus in the womb and for pregnant poor women who are more predisposed to these factors.
In the words of Dr. Stephen Daubry, the Coordinator of the Health Unit of the A.Aruera Reachout Foundation of the First Lady established in 2000 and which has been pre-occupied with the problem of children with heart ailment, “congenital heart problem is the heart problem that children are born with. Up to 99 percent of the problems we tackle here at the Foundation are congenital and that is why you see that most of the children we have here are less than five years old.
“We also have some heart problems that are acquired. We call them acquired heart problem, but most people you see here they have congenital problem and this is the defect that the child encountered while he or she was in the womb, during the developmental stage of the baby in the womb. Those are the cases we see quite often here.”
He added that these heart conditions are rarely detected early in children born to poor women. When detected, the poor parents also can rarely afford the costs of caring for them in referral centres as is the case with Paul’s parents and others like them. He explained that as a result of this problem, most of these children, who are destined to greatness, are left to suffer and die unfulfilled. For those who manage to survive, their cognitive ability is usually poorly developed, and their school attendance or performance is often poor. These children can rarely partake in physical activities like their peers and are often, major consumer of house hold income spent on procuring health care services. Their conditions deepen the poverty levels of their families and they account for a great degree of separations/divorces in marriages as well as family distresses and dislocations.
Between August 2009, when the health unit of the A.Aruera Reachout Foundation became active, and 2012, a total of 218 Nigerian families having children with hole in their hearts applied to the Foundation for assistance, increasing from 15 in 2009 to 79 in 2010, 123 in 2011 and 193 in 2012. As at 2012, a total of 53 children have been treated on the Foundation’s sponsorship (49 in India and 4 in National Hospital, Abuja). According to Dr. Daubry, this figure does not include several children with health challenges, other than heart problem, that were given financial assistance for treatment both locally and abroad.
These multitudes of children assisted by the First Lady through the A.Aruera Reachout Foundation are from different geo-political zones in the country. For instance, among the current batch just returned from India for the sponsored heart surgery, there are those from Kaduna, Anambra, Edo, Cross River, Nassarawa, Benue, Katsina, Lagos, Enugu, among others.
The A.Aruera Reachout Foundation Coordinator further remarked, “So far, we have taken 49 children to India, with the exclusion of the present batch. Since we have been embarking on the life saving journey, we have not recorded any casualty and we thank God for that.
“One thing we equally do is when the children are here, we look after them and we observe them to make sure they complete their treatment until they travel and that is why we insist that they see our consultant at the National Hospital to certify that they are in good condition to undertake the travel. We try as much as possible that those that are going along with them are certified to travel and as much as we get that certification for the surgery they can go but without that certification they don’t go along with them.”
The foundation also undertakes enlightenment programme to assist the parents in taking care of the children. Said the Coordinator, “we talk to the parents about the children and their conditions. We also educate them on the kind of care the children need for stability. We equally give them leaflets through which they also become partners with us to educate other mothers to detect this condition earlier, because the earlier they detect it and the earlier the surgery is done, the better the outcome. The advantage of this is that the diagnosis will be more reliable, thereby leading to lesser complications from the surgery. This also leads to lesser cost of treatment.”
Through the intervention of the A.Aruera Foundation, there has been a tremendous improvement in the lives of the treated children and mothers who have been traumatised as a result of their children’s condition now have peaceful lives and they have gone ahead to have additional children, something that was unthinkable before. They are also returning to profitable economic engagements that were abandoned because of frequent visits to hospitals with these children. The economic and living standard of the households have also improved drastically while the academic performance of the children are now enhanced as frequent visitation to hospitals have stopped.
All these transformations in the lives of the families and the children were made possible due the intervention of the First Lady, Dame Patience Faka Jonathan. The families and indeed the children are full of gratitude for an opportunity to enjoy a healthy and disease-free life. For instance, Paul’s father, Mr. Anto who is from Kaduna state, in his appreciation said this of the First Lady: “I am looking forward to a time I can appear in a television and tell the whole world the good thing our First Lady is doing. I want to thank her and to encourage her to continue what she is doing. Even when she is no longer the First Lady what she has done will continue to speak volume, because some of these children will grow up one day to hear the story and one day they too will be leaders of this great country and her name will never be forgotten.”
Also commenting on the magnanimity of the First Lady in sponsoring his son, Sultan for heart surgery, Alhaji Lamidi Musibau from Lagos state said: “I feel good that the First Lady is helping us. I pray for her that God will reward her for the assistance she is rendering to us the less privileged. If not for her, where else could I get this amount? Even the first one I know how it affected me and my family. We really appreciate her. May God continue to be with her.”
To Mrs. Loyce Ezeilo from Anambra state whose child, Chukwunoso, was also rescued by Dame Patience Jonathan, “the First Lady is really lending supportive hand to the less privileged in the society. There are so many out there who have the same challenges and they don’t have anybody to assist them. I know of a friend whom we met at the National Hospital, her son is dead now because they could not afford the cost of treatment. I really appreciate the First Lady because she came to my rescue and the rescue of my son, when we had no hope.”
Thanks to advancement in medicine and technology, many children with heart ailments can
now live comfortable lives. Thanks also to Dame Patience Jonathan who is helping many indigent families to overcome the trauma of treating these hapless children. With more help coming from all of us, we can assist many children with this condition to live normal and purposeful lives.
Written By Isiaka Aliagan