Thanks to international charity organizations Chain of Hope and Gift of Life, children born in Jamaica with heart defects will have a better chance of survival.
Come next year, the Bustamante Hospital for Children will be home to a multimillion-dollar, fully staffed, state-of-the-art pediatric cardiac center, offering full surgical and after-care service.
The center will house a 10-bed intensive care unit, operating theatre and catheter lab and will also offer specialized training for surgeons, nurses and other pediatric cardiac personnel, as well as conduct research.
A replica of a recently built facility in Ethiopia, Africa, the Jamaican facility will also serve the wider Caribbean.
The dire need for such a facility was brought to the fore with the grim reality that more than 400 children are born in Jamaica each year with congenital heart disease, diagnosed with rheumatic heart disease or other neglected heart conditions, and most were not expected to live to become teenagers.
For the past 42 years, Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub, founder and president of England-based Chain of Hope, has been coming to Jamaica to help with the heart-surgery program, initially at the University Hospital of the West Indies then at the Bustamante Hospital For Children.
“I have a long career in science and medicine and I have seen a lot of suffering first-hand. From the knowledge and expertise gathered, I now feel totally accountable to society, I want to give back what I have learned.
“I have seen kids suffering and dying in front of my eyes and I want to prevent more of that,” said Sir Magdi.
Visiting teams have been traveling to Jamaica since 1996, treating more than 400 children and in 2007 a local branch of Chain of Hope was set up to accommodate mission teams which came annually to perform major cardiac surgery.
Some of the children had to be flown to England because Jamaica lacked the resources to perform complex surgeries.
Sir Magdi’s dream was for Jamaica to be equipped to offer complete pediatric cardiac care and he sought the help of the Ministry of Health, a number of local corporate organizations and international partners.
Telecommunications company, Digicel, has undertaken to build the facility which will cost more than US$1 million, which is expected to be completed by the summer of 2012.
Other partners, including Shaggy & Friends, will help to undertake the more than US$3 million needed to equip and staff the facility, and the additional approximate US$1 million per year to operate the centre.
Through Chain of Hope and Gift of Life, the missions team will continue to travel to Jamaica to train staff under a three-year program, while continuing to conduct the surgeries until the centre can successfully operate on its own.
300 Surgeries per Year
“We will be able to perform some 300 surgeries per year and they will be free of cost. This is not a business venture, it is a venture of giving children hope who have no hope,” said Rob Raylman, executive director of Gift of Life International.
He added that the idea was to give the country the resources it needed to empower Jamaicans to care for Jamaicans.
“Our goal is to develop a successful program that breeds success and once success is bred, then others will get behind it. Our goal is to allow people to unleash their potential. You have people that are so talented, all they need is the opportunity to perform, so our goal is to empower them, when you give someone the chance to do the job that they were trained to do, they will do it,” he stated.
Sir Magdi added, “When we invest our time, energy and money we need people here to be partners, such as corporate Jamaica, the government, the community at large.
“The community really owns this unit, it is dedicated to helping them, regardless of whether they can pay or not. In the long run, this is the property of the people of Jamaica and we are but partners for a period of time until we see this airborne and flying on its own, then we will be very happy and go somewhere else.”
Chain of Hope and Gift of Life have been working together around the world for a number of years, bring hope to the hopeless. The team has been in Jamaica for the past week, meeting with stakeholders, hosting fund-raising events and overseeing training visits.
“The children are what drive everything, they are our future, our passion. Go to Bustamante (Hospital) and look at those little babies in the operating room that have been operated on. They will have a chance at life that they never had before and that’s a beautiful thing. Please help us help these kids,” concluded Raylman, with unmistakable passion.