Heart surgery

Burden of heart surgery for a young mother’s child

The Chronicle

Lumbidzani Dima, columnist
BEING a young mother is a burden in itself, but what really happens when you’re told your baby won’t live beyond five years unless they have an operation that costs beyond that? what can you afford?

Ms Violet Mabhena (22) from the Tshabalala suburb of Bulawayo lives to tell of the pain of looking at her two-year-old baby every day, hoping that a well-wisher will come and help her donate for her operation.

She told the Chronicle that she wasn’t ready for a baby, but once she found out about her pregnancy, she started loving her daughter so dearly. Living in a society where teenage pregnancy is looked down upon, abortion never crossed her mind.

Ms Mabhena gave birth in 2020 and the fear of losing the child haunts her.

“I confess that I was not ready for a baby; no teenager is. I gave birth to my baby when I was 20 and loved her from the start. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world,” said Ms Mabhena who works as a pharmacy assistant at a downtown pharmacy.

Ms Mabhena said she only learned her daughter had a congenital heart condition when she was nine months old, after pretending she was healthy for eight months.

Congenital heart disease is a general term for a range of birth defects that affect the normal functioning of the heart. The term “congenital” means that the condition is present from birth.

“I gave birth at Mpilo Central Hospital and my baby’s weight was 2.5 kg, which is normal. From then on, she was normal, but her heart rate was very fast, which the elders would say is normal for babies. I realized that this thing didn’t end or fade away. She would fall ill out of nowhere.

One day when she was nine months old I asked a nurse at a baby clinic if my baby’s heartbeat was normal, she referred us to another nurse who told us that Cathleen (the baby) had pigeon breast and transferred us to Mpilo.

The following Monday, I went to Mpilo, and the doctor who treated her said that we should do an echocardiogram (echo), electrocardiogram (ECG) and chest X-ray. We booked for the following week when these three tests were done, with the ECG being done at a private facility,” she said.

Ms Mabhena said she was very traumatized when the doctor who carried out an ultrasound told her that her child had a hole in her heart.

She was told the hole was big and couldn’t close on its own like in other situations, so she had to have open-heart surgery.

“At that point I was devastated and mostly confused because I didn’t know what he meant, I couldn’t even understand what he meant by a hole in my heart, I was just a teenage mother having my first baby and I was told she has a hole in her heart when I know a heart is the part of the body that holds a person’s life it was something else.

I didn’t even ask or look at my baby at the time. Luckily my mother-in-law was there for me otherwise I would have crumbled because I felt like it was the end of the road for me,” she said.

Ms. Mabhena started asking herself these kinds of questions like why me? Why my daughter? Is it a punishment? She said she faces many challenges as the baby has to be treated like an egg.

“She is still accepted. Last year, she was admitted five times. Once she catches a cold, she develops pneumonia and she is always put on oxygen. She is too small for her age, in December she weighed 9kg, but her weight has dropped because recently she weighed 6.8kg the weight of a 4 month old baby when she is two years old.

Her medications are expensive and doctors are constantly reducing and increasing the dose saying that the medications don’t work much on her.

“I have to be careful with her, she doesn’t play outside, she doesn’t play with others, she doesn’t eat anything, there are certain foods she has to eat. Sometimes I wake up at night just to check if she is still alive,” she said.

Ms Mabhena said the life she leads is more like grieving for her daughter while she was still alive, but she has faith and hope that someone can find in her heart the opportunity to propose to take her child for surgery in India.

She said they hadn’t collected any money yet, only managed to get passports for the two of them.

She said her daughter had to undergo a ventricular septal defect (VSD) closure, a surgery that can only be performed in South Africa and India. After evaluation, they realized that it was cheaper to go to India, costing around US$15,000, which they couldn’t afford at all.

All supporters can contact Violet on 0776058097.