On Aug. 6., year-old Mchaendel Gilot spent most of an hour-long flight between Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and Grand Cayman crying in his cousin’s arms.
Following heart surgery in mid-August at Health City Cayman Islands, the change in the toddler has been astounding, according to family members and countrymen who traveled with him for the procedure.
“Now he’s only smiling,” said interpreter Gheissa Martineau, speaking at the Island Air property Tuesday. “He’s eating a lot more and now he’s making more friends.”
Mchaendel is one of three Haitian children, including another toddler, Miloury Jeudy, and 15-year-old Benjamin Baptiste, who arrived last month for life-saving heart procedures at Health City. They received the treatment as part of a collaborative effort between nonprofit groups, including the Haiti Cardiac Alliance and Have a Heart Cayman, as well as through the largely not-for-profit efforts of Health City and its chief pediatric cardiologist, Dr. Sripadh Upadhya.
Dr. Upadhya said last month that Miloury, 20 months old, had a heart problem rarely seen, even for a specialist who has examined thousands of patients in India with the Narayana health system.
“There’s a hole in her heart, but it’s in a very unusual location,” Dr. Upadhya said. “It’s in between two arteries. We use a device to close [the hole] … it’s very rarely done. This defect is very rare … it’s maybe the third or fourth one I’ve done.”
It’s unlikely a child with Miloury’s condition would have lived to see her 16th birthday without receiving the complex surgical procedure that is, at least at the moment, impossible to perform in Haiti.
On Tuesday, Miloury was up and about, exploring the building and pulling at Mchaendel’s shirt.
“She didn’t want to eat [before the surgery], she didn’t want to drink milk,” Miloury’s dad Makinson said Tuesday. “Now she drinks lots of milk. I hope that after this surgery she will have a long life.”
The three Haitian children, among more than 60 from the impoverished Caribbean nation who have attended surgeries at Health City since late 2014, were waiting Tuesday morning with their parents and guardians for a chartered Cayman Airways flight which would take them back to Port-au-Prince.
Health City international patient care manager Darren Zucker, who was there to see the little group off, said he was awaiting a much larger contingent aboard the Cayman Airways return flight.
Mr. Zucker said some 30 people, including 15 heart patients of varying ages (all 18 and under) would receive care at Health City in the coming weeks.
In a way, the collaborative effort between the Haitian nonprofit, Health City and the Cayman Islands charity group is a race against time. Not all patients will get to go, and even some heart patients who are “on the list” to receive surgeries following initial screenings, do not survive long enough to arrive at the life-saving procedure.
Speaking to the Cayman Compass at the Port-au-Prince airport on Aug. 6, Kessy Acceme with the Haiti Cardiac Alliance said he was well aware that a few of those children had already missed their chance.
“In the past few months, we’ve had five kids die waiting for surgery,” Mr. Acceme said. “But it’s just beautiful when kids go to the Cayman Islands for surgery and they come back healed and happy. They can do anything they want in life.”
Ultimately, Mr. Acceme said, the Haiti Cardiac Alliance wants to open its own “center of excellence” for these types of surgeries in the home country, since the bureaucratic and logistical problems in Haiti make getting the sick children out to receive medical treatment a monumental task. The Haiti Cardiac Alliance has managed to get about 200 children successful medical procedures around the world, with about one-third of those (64 surgeries) having occurred at Health City Cayman Islands since late 2014, Mr. Acceme said.
For interpreter, Ms. Martineau, this trip with the Health City patients was her first time away from home. She is staying in Cayman for the time being to help with the large group of patients coming over on the Cayman Airways return flight.
“I was afraid to leave home. I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “But this was a great experience.”