The day Lauryn Ahebwa was born three and a half years ago, she coughed. It surprised doctors who wondered why it had happened. On the second day, she coughed again, but this time it was accompanied with a high body temperature.
When Ahebwa’s mother, Racheal Kiiza told the midwives who had assisted her to give birth about what had happened, she was informed that the high temperature could have been a result of malaria.
“I was given syrup to cool the temperature, but this was not helpful,” Kiiza recalls. She then decided to take the baby to Mulago National Referral Hospital, where Ahebwa underwent treatment for three days.
However, she could not breastfeed and became weak. It was then that Ahebwa was diagnosed with a congenital heart disease, in which doctors said she had two holes in the heart.
How the defect affects the heart
A congenital heart defect is a problem with the structure of the heart, which is usually present at birth. It is also the most common type of birth defect, which affects the heart by disrupting the normal flow of blood through the heart.
The blood flow can slow down, go in the wrong direction or be blocked completely.
According to medical experts, many congenital heart defects cause few or no signs and symptoms, and are often not diagnosed until children are older.
In Ahebwa’s case, when she returned home after treatment at Mulago hospital, her condition did not improve. At three months, she became sick again and rejected breast milk. “I started feeding her on cow milk for the next three months, and after a while, I switched to rice porridge,” says Kiiza.
When Ahebwa could not take the rice porridge anymore, her mother started to feed her on packed milk, which she has been living on since then.
“She was also given a syrup, to stimulate appetite, that is why she is able to feed on the milk,” says Kiiza.
She adds: “When she does not take the syrup, she develops pain in the chest, which is usually accompanied with heavy cough.”
Surgery at Mulago
Having failed to raise money for an open heart surgery in India, Kiiza was recently informed by the Uganda Heart Institute that a team of Indian doctors will be at Mulago hospital in September, to carryout surgery on children whose heart conditions do not necessarily require specialised treatment abroad.
But because Ahebwa is not one of the children benefiting from the free surgery, she is required to pay Shs16m, to enable the doctors from India also treat her.
Dr Tom Mwambu, a cardiologist at the Heart Institute, says the money will cover the cost of the surgery, accommodation, intensive care, treatment and meals for the patient for 14 days.
Kiiza, a single mother of three, says she cannot raise the required amount of money within the next few weeks, and is therefore appealing to Good Samaritans for help.