Posted on 16 May, 2024

“I had this severe chest pain at school, and I had a really hard time breathing.”

Nashon was nine years old when he was told he had a heart condition. He was having difficulty breathing and after medical investigation, he was diagnosed with subaortic membrane, meaning the flow of blood from his heart’s left ventricle, out through the aorta, was being restricted. Unfortunately for Nashon, the condition was only set to worsen as he got older.

He flew from his home in Tanzania to receive surgery in India, as at that time no one in his country was able to perform the required heart surgery. The surgery was successful, and for the next nine years of his life, Nashon’s heart troubles were a problem of the past.

“I was totally fine and in a very good condition until August 2023,” Nashon says. “I had this severe chest pain at school, and I had a really hard time breathing, like the time before.”

At 18 years of age, Nashon’s heart had deteriorated. He needed surgery.

At 18 years of age, Nashon’s heart had deteriorated, and he was diagnosed with aortic stenosis with mild regurgitation. Not only was his left ventricle being restricted, but some of the blood being pumped was going in the wrong direction as the heart wasn’t strong enough to keep it flowing in the right direction. Without a valve replacement, Nashon’s heart would continue to deteriorate until it failed.

“The doctors said I had to undergo another surgery and this time to do a valve replacement,” Nashon says. “I had a very hard time trying to process this. I thought that was the end of my journey.”

Nashon tried to continue with his studies, but he found it difficult to concentrate.

“I tried hard to study but I couldn’t focus,” he says. “I’ve always dreamed of becoming a journalist, but every time I thought about it, I felt like maybe I wouldn’t survive my surgery.”

The medical care in Tanzania had advanced since Nashon was a child and the Jakaya Kikwete Cardiac Institute had trained cardiac surgeons. But they could only do 300 of the thousands of cases each year, and Nashon’s case was complicated. Without additional expertise, he would need to travel internationally again to receive his life-saving surgery.

“A few months later, my mum got a call from my doctor to say that doctors were coming from Australia and so my surgery was going to be scheduled.”

With an Open Heart International team set to visit Tanzania in November, Nashon’s surgery date was set.

On the day of Nashon’s surgery, he was nervous and scared. He worried about his mother being alone if he died, and how she would cope. He became emotional thinking about his 5-year-old sister and whether he’d see her again. But he met with the Open Heart International volunteers ahead of his surgery. One of the volunteers, Simon, had a son who had also received heart surgery.

“Simon gave me hope by telling me the story of his son,” Nashon says. “I had to be brave. I was really scared as I got ready for surgery, but I never gave up because the people who love me never gave up on me. So I faced my greatest fear.”

Hours later, Nashon woke in the recovery room after a successful surgery thanks to the Open Heart International team.

Nashon’s heart surgery was successful

“I was filled with joy and happiness that I made it,” Nashon exclaims. “I had a very smooth recovery and after two weeks I was discharged. I am back on my feet strong healthy and happy!

“Thank you, Open Heart International family for fixing my heart.”

Dr Stella Sharau, the Senior Paediatric Cardiologist at the centre that takes care of Nashon, shares, “Tanzania has an estimated 16,000 children born per year with heart disease, all relying on one dedicated paediatric cardiac centre for care. Available resources are scarce, only allowing us to operate on a couple of hundred children per year. The need for cardiac surgery is severe and teams like Open Heart International are vital in providing cardiac care in our resource limited settings.

“Being Nashon’s second surgery, we needed the extra help of the Open Heart International cardiologist and surgeons so as to be exactly sure what the problem was with his aortic valve, so we could correct it once and for all. We thank Open Heart International for helping make his surgery a success.”

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