A good Heart

The alarm went off pretty early today. Time to wake up. People are waiting for me at Shisong’s Cardiac Centre. Bij, a 7 year-old little girl, is about to undergo surgery.

I enter the locker room and wear scrubs, a white coat, mask, and clogs. I have everything with me. The chance to witness an open-heart surgery firsthand won’t happen again. I take a deep breath and enter the OR.

Surgeons and assistants are coming and going, getting ready for the surgery. The room is freezing cold, I’m cold, so I collect my thoughts and start taking some photos.

Suddenly the doors burst open and a stretcher comes in. It looks empty but then I see Bij lying down on it.

Seeing that tiny, black little girl hiding between the white sheets, fear showing plainly in her eyes, makes me really worried. But being a reporter means I have to keep my emotions at bay, chained down, otherwise I would never last more than 10 minutes.

Once Bij is asleep, the doctors start prepping her. Then… once her chest is open, the surgeons start working on her heart. The surgery consists of replacing a piece of the aortic arch.

The heart-lungs machine is doing its job. A 7-hour surgery, 7-hour wait, taking photos and videos.

It looks like I’ve just climbed Mount Everest, so I can’t help but wonder how these doctors can keep up with this pace. The surgeons are constantly bent over the girl’s small body, and the technicians and anesthetists are vigilant on her body functions.

The beautiful thing about this team is that it doesn’t consist only of Italian specialists. This highly-qualified team has also invited local doctors to teach them these new, important techniques. Everyone wishes the Cardiac Centre to be able to walk on its own feet one day.

Born in 2009, the Cardiac Centre is the biggest specialized center in northern Africa. Since 2000, several associations fought for it to open, even with the contribution of Capuchin Friars from Milan. After 9 years of studies, extensive research, funds, etc… the Cardiac Centre was born. In just a year it has carried out over 200 surgeries, and even more are planned for next year. Everyone hopes for the center to become, even if it already is somehow, the feather in Africa’s cap.

The surgery is over. I take off the green scrubs that I used in the operating room and, taking a big breath, I sit down on one of the benches in the doctors’ locker room.

I close my eyes, images of today running through my mind. These emotions are just too much, I can’t hold them in. Tears start rolling down my cheeks and I can’t stop them.

Too many emotions today!

The next day I go to the intensive care and see Bij, awake but still a bit dazed and scared. I talk to the surgeon who carried out the surgery yesterday and he says she’s fine, that she will be released in three days. Her family is camped outside on the hospital’s grounds because they don’t have enough money for a room.

The surgery has been funded by a ‘good heart’. Thankfully there are still lots of good hearts in this world.


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