The Heart to Heart Foundation
Upon their return from The United States of America, Dr. Betty Gikonyo first worked at The Kenyatta National Hospital. There were great challenges; the diagnosis mechanisms had ground to a halt. In addition, the only programme available for facilitation of open heart surgeries was inactive. Luckily they had bought a 2 dimensional echocardiogram that helped a lot with the diagnosis of heart conditions then. Soon they were servicing the needs of patients from the national hospital and beyond. After the diagnosis what then? There were fewer open heart surgeries being carried out during that time. Dr. Betty Gikonyo was troubled by the fact that after making her diagnoses she couldn’t proceed to plan for the much needed surgeries due to financial constraints and lack of proper mechanisms to carry out corrective open heart surgeries.
For those who closely know Dr. Betty Gikonyo, they would certainly agree that she is not one to be put down by a challenge. Instead like an eagle she glides in the storm. Initially they sought help from cardiologists and surgeons from countries such as Italy, India, Britain and America. Their patients could not afford to pay for these surgeries and the Gikonyos would often appeal for fully sponsored heart surgeries.
The Children Heart Fund, now called Children’s Heart Link, had offered a scholarship to Dr. Dan Gikonyo to study cardiology. They had also hosted the Gikonyos in Minneapolis. Over the years a good partnership had developed. Not only did they received the first batch of children who need surgeries from the Gikonyos but they also trained cardiac nurses and doctors in order to help increase skilled cardiology medical staff in Kenya.
The process of seeking treatment abroad was riddled with hurdles. Fund raisers were often organized. This meant getting a permit from the provincial commissioner’s office. One was also to get a letter from the Ministry of Health authorizing that the patient be treated oversees. As if this was not enough, the Central Bank of Kenya had to give the go ahead for the purchase an air ticket after depositing with them a certain percentage of the total cost of the air ticket. There was also a limit imposed on the amount of foreign currency one could travel with out of the country.
The airlifts began in 1986 and went on for a number of years. Dr. Betty Gikonyo was convinced that there had to be another way; that was not the only solution to this problem. While travelling to Minneapolis for Dr. Dan Gikonyo to further his studies, the Gikonyos had been requested to travel with one ill young man. The same organization that had offered Dr. Dan Gikonyo a scholarship was the same one catering for this young man’s treatment. His name was Sammy Arap Keter. While airborne a medical crisis unfolds. Sammy took seriously ill and needed urgent medical attention. With their medical expertise they quickly diagnosed pulmonary oedema. Acting first, oxygen and a couple of intravenous drugs were administered and his condition stabilized. From this nasty incident, they knew they had to do something to help children from economically challenged backgrounds in accessing such medical services. The conceived idea later birthed The Heart to Heart Foundation in 1993.
Already there was a team of highly trained expertise in the country. The only thing they lacked was medical equipment to perform the surgeries locally. Through the good will of contacts especially Dr. Joseph Kiser, equipment was procured including the heart- lung machine and expensive disposables such as oxygenator packs, tubing and filters. The equipment was set up at The Nairobi Hospital. All was set for the first open heart surgery to be performed at The Nairobi Hospital.
On 3rd October 1993, eight year old Judy Mbuthia became the first Heart to Heart Foundation beneficiary.
To date over 300 children have had surgery through sponsorships by this foundation, both locally and abroad. Over a 1000 others have received other forms of treatment and management care.
Having been established under the Trustees Deed Act of the Laws of Kenya, the foundation is a Kenyan non-profit medical charity. Its vision is to reduce the prominence of heart diseases in children under the age of 18, as well as ensuring that no child lacks access to cardiac medical treatment because of poverty.
It has three missions that include; spearheading the prevention campaign on preventable heart disease in children, creating the framework for proper diagnosis of heart disease in children through training and education and raising adequate funds to facilitate open- heart surgery for needy children under the age of 18 suffering from both congenital and acquired heart disease.
It is important to note that the foundation is not only involved in the treatment of cardiac cases but also in the inhibiting of preventable heart conditions. The Heart to Heart Foundation has had a number of partnership programs to help in their noble cause. One of them involved a partnership involving The Heart to Heart Foundation, the Ministry of Health and Nairobi University to avert crises waiting to happen. One of the major causes of such heart conditions like rheumatic heart disease (R.H.D) is something we often tend to ignore; untreated sore throat. Steptococci bacteria cause rheumatic fever which in turn destroys the valves and could lead to heart failure. There was a major concern with the number of children seeking medical attention as a result of rheumatic heart disease.. They taught healthcare providers on proper diagnosis and treatment of rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease and more importantly how to nip streptococci sore throats in the bud before it escalates. It was evident that the nonchalant attitudes towards sore throats had to be checked by both parents and healthcare workers. Between 1996 and 2006 over 5000 health workers were trained in 35 sites across Kenya. They in turn spearheaded the training of other healthcare workers in their areas of operations. Through these efforts over 2 million people were reached with the important message of prevention, diagnosis, management and treatment of rheumatic heart disease. Over 300 cases of rheumatic fever were correctly diagnosed and referred for treatment during this period.
Initially the children heart link in Minnesota paid for the treatment of heart conditions in addition to sending a team of doctors over. With time we devised mechanisms of raising funds ourselves. This has been through a number of activities in the course of the year. The Karen Hospital Run is an annual event that aims to raise funds through encouraging individuals, schools and corporate to participate through buying of Karen Heart Run T-shirts. The Nairobi Goat Derby is another fun day organized by the Karen Hospital. Individuals, corporate and schools are encouraged to participate through purchase of tickets. The day is filled with entertainment and fun activities such as goat racing, bouncing castle, face painting and plenty of nyama choma. The last event of the year is always the annual gala dinner event where again individuals, organizations and corporate are invited to purchase tickets towards this noble course.
Donations are also sent to the foundation through an Mpesa paybill number 517800 account number hearttoheart and Equity bank account, community branch, account number: 0180291943487,account name: heart to heart foundation.
All the monies collected are directed towards heart surgery and treatment of children from economically challenged backgrounds.
The Swahili say,” Haba haba hujaza kibaba,” through your kind gesture we have been able to restore stolen childhoods, renew lost hope and leave a mark on a child’s heart. This is not a mean feat and we would not have achieved any of it without you. We are eternally grateful for your help. Asante sana.