Sherry Ann Martin is living on borrowed time. Doctors in the United States predicted that the Guyanese child would not live past age 12 after she underwent shunt surgery eight years ago to repair a congenital heart disease.
The shunt – which creates a passage between blood vessels sending blood to parts of the body that need it – was blocked, and a second procedure was performed in India two years ago to replace it and improve her pulmonary blood flow.
Time is running out for Martin who recently celebrated her 12th birthday. She desperately needs a longer shunt to survive.
With the assistance of the Mississauga-based Three Rivers Kids Foundation, the girl flew from Guyana via Toronto to Delhi earlier this week, to undergo a third surgery, if it can be done.
“Before she has the surgery, she will have to undergo a CT (computerized tomographic) angiogram that creates detailed images of the blood vessels in the body to make sure that she can have the surgery,” explained Guyanese-born registered nurse, Jeanette Singh, who founded the local organization nearly four years ago. “Right now she can’t walk, she suffers from chest pains and she is skinny as a tooth pick.
“We know that if we don’t try to do the surgery, she will die. On the other hand, if it’s successful, she will have a fairly good life.”
Martin is one of eight Guyanese children and one adult – 58-year-old Zamal Khan – whom Singh has accompanied to India for open heart surgery. They left Toronto last Sunday night after arriving from Guyana a week ago.
“These children suffer from various congenital abnormalities of the heart such as rheumatic heart diseases, atrial septal defects and incompetent heart valves” Singh said at a fundraiser last Saturday night. “Some of these children have also developed pulmonary artery hypertension as a result of not being able to get the required treatment soon after birth.
“Since the organization was founded just over three and a half years ago, we have taken 42 Guyanese patients to India for treatment. The majority of them have undergone successful heart surgery. We have also had a patient undergo a kidney transplant and another one received treatment for congenital dislocation of the left hip. I did my research and have come up with some of the best specialists in pediatric cardiology.”
Last year, Dr. Viresh Mahajan flew from India to Guyana to provide free cardiac screening.
A nurse at the Trillium Health Centre, Singh said she was drawn to the plight of Guyanese children in urgent need of medical care when she returned home for her father’s funeral two decades ago.
“I visited a friend of mine who was a teacher in La Grange (a rural village on the West Bank of Demerara) and was amazed when I saw her taking care of 15 children, ranging in ages from five to10,” recalled Singh who came to Canada in 1980 after spending a few years in England. “She said they were children who were abandoned and I noticed that they were not in the best medical shape.
“I made a commitment that day that I would adopt all of the children by feeding, clothing and taking care of their medical needs. On my return to Canada, I showed my husband a photo of the children telling him that they were now ours in addition to our three kids.”
Sensing the need to set up a stable foundation, Singh registered the organization in 2006 and has been working with various individuals and organizations in Canada to raise funds. The projected cost of the latest mission is US$90,000.
“There are hundreds of sick and poor children in Guyana who are in desperate need of medical attention,” she said. “Guyana does not have pediatric cardiologists or cardiac surgeons and as such cannot (help) these kids with their required medical needs. That’s why we have to take these children overseas to give them a chance to live long and fulfilling lives. They deserve this.”
Individuals interested in contributing to the Three Rivers Kids Foundation can mail cheques to 1531 Kenmuir Avenue, Mississauga, L5G 4B6.