The Gift of a Healthy Heart

Born with a serious heart defect, little Pham Hiem Suong was given a new lease of life, thanks to a project collaboration between Singaporean and Vietnamese doctors.

When she was six months old, little Pham Hiem Suong was diagnosed with Tetralogy of Fallot - a defect which inhibits the heart’s ability to pump sufficient blood to the rest of the body

For Mdm Nguyen Thi Nga, life over the past few years has been a seemingly endless cycle of hospital visits and medication feeds, clouded with constant worry for her three-year-old daughter.

Pham Hiem Suong was diagnosed with a condition, Tetralogy of Fallot, when she was six months old. This is a defect which inhibits the heart’s ability to pump sufficient blood to the rest of the body. Without surgical intervention, children with this condition seldom live beyond their teens.

At the Children Hospital No. 2 in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where Hien Suong has been warded since March 2012, Mdm Nguyen recalled occasions of fear when her daughter’s lips, finger tips and toes would turn blue. The little girl also complained frequently about breathlessness and fatigue.

“Since her diagnosis, Hien Suong has to take medicine three times a day. When she was one, she fainted and was sent to the provincial hospital. But they decided that they couldn’t do anything more for her and referred us to the Children’s Hospital No. 2 in Ho Chi Minh City. Because of the long waiting list, my daughter was only admitted two years later,” Mdm Nguyen recalled.

Raising childcare capabilities

This city hospital is one of SIF’s partners in the SIF Paediatric Cardiac Care Project. A three-year initiative incepted in July 2011, this project aims to build the clinical competencies of its cardiac unit, in the hope of reducing the rate of infant mortality resulting from congenital heart disease.

Over the three years, a team of eight medical professionals from KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) in Singapore will conduct six week-long training frames for 40 medical staff at Children’s Hospital No. 2. Half of these participants are expected to become trainers for their colleagues.

Each training frame focuses on a specific cardiac condition, and comprises classroom lectures, case study discussions, ward rounds and joint surgeries.

At the recently concluded third training frame in April 2012, the focus was on management of Tetralogy of Fallot, and Hien Suong was one of two children chosen for surgery. Both surgeries were tedious six-hour procedures, but the children are well on the way to recovery.

Dr Ong Kim Kiat, Head of Cardiothoracic Service at KKH and Team Leader of the SIF Paediatric Cardiac Care Project, said that the high number of cardiac patients and the diversity of cases handled by the Children’s Hospital No. 2 present good opportunities for both the Singapore and Vietnamese medical teams to learn about different professional working styles and treatment approaches.

Meanwhile, Mdm Nguyen is relieved and comforted that her daughter can now look forward to a full life. “I am so thankful to the Singapore team and Vietnamese doctors for saving Hien Suong’s life. My hope is that she will grow up to become a doctor, so that she too can save other children with heart problems.”

The cardiac unit at Children’s Hospital No. 2 will eventually reach out to paediatric heart patients in Ho Chi Minh City and the southern provinces, potentially handling 300 to 400 operations and 900 to 1,000 cases of catheterisation each year.

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