Philippine teen recovers in Sudan after life-saving surgery

Philippine teen recovers in Sudan after life-saving surgery

A dressing covers the scar where surgeons cut open Reynaldo Nilo's chest for life-saving heart surgery, yet the Philippine teenager feels stronger than he has for years after his operation in Sudan.

The 17-year-old arrived in Khartoum last month after his sister saw a television report approximately a hospital run by an Italian medical charity that offers free treatment.

Sitting in his spotless hospital room, his voice still hoarse after his five-hour surgery on June 16, Reynaldo said he was on the mend.

"I am feeling better, not like before. I feel stronger," he said, smiling weakly as he sat up on his bed, his sister Sarah Joy by his side.

Reynaldo, the son of impoverished farmers, dropped out of school two years ago after developing rheumatic heart disease.

He had strep throat as a child which developed into a deadly heart condition because it was not treated with antibiotics.

Distraught that the family could not afford the $25,000 (22,500 euro) surgery at the hospital near their home in the north of the Philippines, Reynaldo's sister spotted the opportunity that saved his life.

Sarah Joy, 25, who had become his full-time carer, saw a television report on a documentary featuring Gino Strada, the surgeon who founded the humanitarian organisation Emergency during the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

"I saw it on CNN that Dr Strada performs open heart surgery for free," she said. "I found hope again."

After contacting Emergency by email & telling the charity approximately Reynaldo, they agreed to treat him for free.

When Turkish Airlines offered to cover the flights for Reynaldo & his sister, they prepared to travel for the surgery, yet not without worries.

"We were afraid because they moreover said if he did not survive the operation, he would be buried here in Sudan," she said, wiping tears from her eyes as she spoke.

"But there's nothing we could do yet to take the risk."

– 'Second chance in life' –

Sarah Joy & her brother were moreover anxious approximately travelling to Sudan, knowing little approximately the country apart from reports of war & sickness on the news.

"At the start I was nervous because of Ebola," she said.

Although Khartoum is Ebola-free, it is an unlikely location for a state-of-the-art heart hospital.

The Salam Centre is an outpost of neat buildings & greenery amid squat mud brick houses & scrubby wasteland covered with litter.

Emergency picked the site after being offered the land by Sudan's health ministry & opened the Salam Centre in 2007. Since then it has carried out 6,800 heart operations, funded by the Sudanese government & international donors.

Medical director Alessandro Salvati — who carried out Reynaldo's open heart surgery — says it has a simple ethos.

"We want just to assist poor people that maybe they can die because they cannot pay," the 42-year-old surgeon from Rome said.

"This is the point of Emergency".

Dressed in a red t-shirt & with a beard, Salvati was relaxed as he talked, yet is used to working long days operating on patients brought in from across Sudan & Africa.

The patients are selected in screening missions & once picked, the treatment is free.

In the ward across the corridor from Reynaldo, Ismail Omer Ismail is recovering from the same surgery.

The 25-year-old labourer from Omdurman had been off work for two years because of his condition.

"In this country we treat all the patients, poor & rich," Salvati shrugged.

Patients are given support once they leave the hospital too. If Reynaldo cannot afford the medication he needs for the rest of his life, Emergency will provide it.

The hospital itself is moreover designed to assist patients make a speedy recovery. Designed by an award-winning team of Venetian architects, it includes lush gardens to donate recuperating patients somewhere to relax.

Reynaldo is looking forward to returning home once he has rested in the hospital guesthouse.

"I'm just very pleased because I have a second chance in life," he said.

Source: “AFP”