Hope for children with heart disease

BY ANIKA RICHARDS Online/Health coordinator richardsai@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, February 27, 2016

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HEALTH City Cayman Islands, a state-of-the-art tertiary care hospital located in East End, Grand Cayman, is on a mission to ensure that no child within the Caribbean region with heart disease dies because of lack of financial support to access surgery.

The hospital, which provides an array of specialised medical services, accepted its first patient in 2014, and since then has done in excess of 60 heart procedures, at no cost, for children across the region. This they have managed to achieve with the help of Have a Heart — a non-profit organisation that helps to facilitate free heart surgeries for children. Most of the cases done involve children from Haiti, Honduras and Guatemala, but Health City has now turned its sights to Jamaica.

"Hopefully, if circumstances allow, for the next year onwards, we will be able to do at least one heart surgery, totally free of cost, every day, for the children with heart disease in the entire Caribbean," Dr Binoy Chattuparambil, senior cardiac surgeon at Health City Cayman Islands, said at a recent press conference in Kingston.

"I can tell with confidence... if any of the (local) doctors come across children with heart disease and they find it difficult to afford heart surgery, please contact our marketing team... I’m sure we will be able to help them," he said.

Six-year-old Cassie Drummond is one Jamaican who received critical heart surgery courtesy of Health City Cayman Islands.

Dr Chattuparambil said, unfortunately, the hospital cannot extend the offer of free procedures to Jamaica’s adult population with heart disease, but that "definitely we would be able to help them with reduced cost".

He insisted that the reduced cost would not compromise the quality of care received at the health care facility.

Health City Cayman Islands also expressed an interest in working with the Bustamante Hospital for Children to assist with any backlog of cases of children who might be awaiting heart surgeries, through the assistance of the Have a Heart organisation.

The health care institution has positioned itself as a choice hospital, providing specialist care a stone’s throw away from Jamaica.

According to senior cardiologist Dr William Foster, who has been championing Health City’s cause in Jamaica, the island has benefited immensely from the hospital’s proximity in the region.

"We have been and continue to be eternally grateful for their presence," Dr Foster said.

He recounted that when he first met Dr Chattuparambil, he saw a sliver of opportunity for his patients. Dr Foster said that sliver of opportunity became an open door when one of his patients, Lesha Matthews, needed help.

"I have been back in Jamaica since 1972... and it didn’t take long to appreciate what had been said before, that not more than 20 per cent, at best, of Jamaicans who needed heart surgery were getting it," Dr Foster shared, adding that doctors had to come up with ways to get poor Jamaicans to a country where that service could be received.

"And to find now that, having gone through the fire, the brimstone, the challenges, that we have someone next door, willing to share, willing to make this audacious statement, which is to say ‘no one should die because they need heart surgery’, that is in fact something which I had never heard before," he said.

He said that in Jamaica, unfortunately, for whatever reason, "we have set the bar so high that so few Jamaicans can enjoy this opportunity".

Dr Foster said when he returned to Jamaica after training in the United States, only one heart surgery case was done per week. He said that today, "we only do, at best, two days a week, not much more".

He shared that a colleague once told him that for a population like Jamaica’s, of about three million, should be doing at least 3,000 cases per year.

"We do much less than 200 for the most part," Dr Foster admitted, adding "and these are all people who have the means. Most of them [who need surgery]don’t have the means to afford it, so they languish", he said.

Meanwhile, Health City’s Marketing Director Shomari Scott underscored that the purpose behind the institution, which is a joint venture between Narayana Health and Ascension — the largest faith-based non-profit, health care system in the United States — is to give compassionate care of the highest level of quality at an affordable cost so that people may be able to afford super specialty types of surgery such as procedures involving the heart.

Scott said Health City Cayman Islands is working to foster a relationship with counterparts in Jamaica through press conferences, and plans to run public service announcements, as well as have health clinics locally, in order to help the many Jamaicans with heart conditions.

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