Today we would like to present a very special project in Bolivia: the Cardio Centre in La Paz. Our colleague Miriam "Mila" Milz visited the center and met affected families and children personally. She also had the opportunity to interview Dr. Alexandra Heath-Freudenthal, the director of the Heart Centre.
Due to the altitude, around 3000 children in Bolivia are born with a heart defect every year. Additionally, many children and adults in the region suffer from heart defects caused by diseases due to poverty.
As the costs for diagnosis, treatment and aftercare are not covered by any state health insurance, many poorer families and children remain on their own. If surgery or treatment is required, they cannot afford the often very expensive procedures.
But there is also another problem: superstition and mistrust of Western medicine also lead to children not being examined in the first place or families rejecting medical treatment.
In the 360° Geo Report "Bolivia - The fight for little hearts" we saw the story of little Milena for the first time and were very touched.
All the more we were happy that our colleague Mila had the opportunity to meet Milena and her mother personally.
Milena and her twin sister Vilma were born seemingly healthy. That Milena had a heart defect was not discovered at birth. Although she was smaller than her sister, she had a normal development on the outside. However, the little girl often suffered from colds and sweated a lot. She also cried a lot and spat out milk while feeding. Milena's mother also tells us that the little girl was repeatedly given medication that did not help.
When Milena's parents moved to Argentina for work, Milena became ill more and more often. During a visit to the local hospital, the heart defect was discovered and it quickly became clear that surgery was necessary to save the little girl.
Back in La Paz, the doctors said that Milena needed open heart surgery. On the day of the planned heart surgery, there was a dramatic incident: Milena fell from her bed in the hospital. The surgery had to be cancelled and the shocked mother interpreted the accident as a hint of fate. Maybe the surgery just wasn't supposed to be? Milena's grandmother was of the same opinion. She was firmly convinced that treatment by a local natural healer was the better option.
Some time later Milena's mother heard about the cardio centre in La Paz. There Dr. Alexandra Heath-Freudenthal examined the child again and quickly determined that the operation was indeed the only solution to heal Milena. However, the doctor was able to reassure Milena's mother: open-heart surgery was not necessary, but a less dangerous intervention was sufficient.
Soon after, the operation was performed successfully. The operating costs of 7000 dollars were completely sponsored by the Heart Association. Milena was in hospital only one night after the operation and was discharged the next day, much to the surprise of her grandmother, who had been very sceptical before.
Now there is no difference between the twin sisters Milena and Vilma. Compared to her sister, Milena was previously smaller, thinner, not so bright and sickly. Now, only two years later, everything is normal.
Another little patient that Mila got to know personally is little Dante. He had the heart surgery when he was just three weeks old.
His story is typical of the region: Dante's mother was 17 years old when he was born. She was with the child's father until the 7th month, then the father moved away for a job. The mother was on her own and forced to work during the whole pregnancy. In this difficult time she was supported only by her parents.
Dante was born two weeks later than planned. During the pregnancy no illnesses or abnormalities were noticed, but soon after the birth the baby had problems breathing.
One day the little boy was unable to breathe. At the hospital the devastating diagnosis followed: Dante had a heart defect and had to undergo surgery quickly.
Also this time the rescue came through the Cardiozentrum in La Paz. Dr. Alexandra Heath-Freudenthal examined little Dante and made sure that he was operated immediately. In Dante's case it was an open heart surgery that had to be performed.
Despite successful surgery, Dante now needs a new procedure because he has a scar on his heart. Financing for this new operation is still being sought. Due to the scar on the heart, his legs are not sufficiently supplied with blood, but the head gets too much.
Dante's mother, now 22, has another six-month-old child with a new husband. Both parents have no work, so the financial situation is very bad. The costs for the new operation are about 5000 dollars - many times lower than the income of the family (the average income in the area is about 300 Euro per month).
Like many other families affected by poverty, the couple tries to make ends meet with small jobs. Now they print T-shirts, before they did cleaning jobs, worked as waiters or even cooking. Nevertheless, the money is simply not enough.
Dante's mother had actually started practicing as a physiotherapist, but now she hasn't attended school for a year. As we learn, this is also very typical. In the event of pregnancy or financial difficulties, many young Bolivians drop out of school, which is so important for their future.
During her visit to the Cardio Centre, our colleague Mila also had the opportunity to talk to the social worker of the institution.
She spoke about the challenges the team faces every day in their work and gave an insight into their daily lives. In addition to poverty, ignorance is a major problem. Many parents do not understand the diagnosis and the urgency of the treatment. People are often suspicious of modern medicine and prefer to rely on traditional healing methods.
In such cases, Dr. Heath-Freudenthal's team must first build trust and explain to the parents why the heart defect must be treated and how the procedure works.
In addition, the neediness of the patient is always checked before every operation in order to avoid misuse of donations.
The Cardio Centre in La Paz, Bolivia is a modernly equipped centre for diagnosis, parent counselling, aftercare and minimally invasive heart catheterisation. Dr. Alexandra Heath-Freudenthal's team not only treats the children, but also carries out important educational work in the region to ensure that the affected children can be helped in the best possible way. The project is financed by donations.
We were very impressed by the work of the Heart Centre in La Paz. After our personal visit it was clear that we have to support the association and the valuable work of Dr. Alexandra Heath-Freudenthal and her team. And you can help us!
From every bottle sold in our online shop, 10% of the profits will be donated to the Herzverein e.V. organisation, during the next month's period. With the collected money, heart sick children like Milena and Dante get a life saving treatment or surgery. With the money collected now we hope that the second operation can be financed for Dante.
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Would you like to donate more?
All necessary information can be found on the website of the Herzverein e.V.:
Also very worth seeing:
Ted Talk by Franz Freudenthal, cardiologist and inventor of the crocheted heart implants used for heart ops: