Making the heart whole

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Sunday, February 10, 2013


THE 14th of February, celebrated as Valentine’s Day, is also Congenital Heart Defect (CHD) Awareness Day. Valentine’s day being a day of the heart, it is but fitting to  also remember that there are people born with congenital heart  defects whose needs have  to be addressed.

Wikipedia defines CHD as “a defect in the structure of the heart and great vessels which is present at birth. Many types of heart defects exist, most of which either obstruct blood flow in the heart or vessels near it, or cause blood to flow through the heart in an abnormal pattern.” Heart surgeon Dr. Peter Yb. Mancao simplifies CHD classification as generally cyanotic or acyanotic.

Cyanotic, he explains, is when there is a wrong connection of the arteries resulting in lack of blood for the oxygenation of the lungs and the baby turns blue. Acyanotic is when there’s a defect in the heart wall, like when there is a hole in the heart.  Here the baby may sometimes seem normal but he doesn’t grow well, he does not feed well, and he tires easily. Some grow into adults before the heart defect is discovered, and some babies born with a hole in their hearts actually heal by themselves.

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Dr. Mancao says that there are cases that need immediate surgery while others can wait a few days or weeks or months, or even years; fortunately, such surgical procedures are available in Cebu.

Those behind Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Day say that CHD affects one percent of newborn babies worldwide, affecting over 40,000 babies born every year. Dr. Mancao says that the incidence in Cebu is higher, due principally to inadequate prenatal care. So most of the cases he sees belong to the marginalized sector in our society.

They are helped partly by major hospitals in the city which have a heart clinic that takes care of charity ward patients. But they would still need other support and this is where foundations like the Tzu Tzi foundation and Rotary International’s “A Gift of Life Foundation” come in. Local media also help, by airing or publishing the need of a CHD patient, appeals which some do-good people actually heed.

Dr. Mancao explains that he works with others during a heart surgery. “We are a team.

I work with another heart surgeon, Dr. Arnold Tan, and an anesthesiologist, Dr. Judith Fernando. All the others in the operating room are highly skilled: the one operating the heart-lung machine, the nurses and even the orderly know exactly what to do during an operation.” For CHD patients, and this team sees about two cases a month, the surgical instruments are smaller than those for adult heart patients.

February in the Philippines is also called Heart Month, to remind us to take care of our hearts. Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, addresses the special needs of babies born with congenital heart defects by making it a day for Congenital Heart Defect Awareness: “to honor and to remember all those people born with heart defect and all of the families and friends who have been touched by our heroic little children.” Be aware, and be of help!

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 11, 2013.

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