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Hearts of hope

Cardiac charity celebrates 20th year of providing relief through surgery to ailing Jamaican children

Published:Thursday | November 30, 2023 | 12:12 AMChristopher Serju/Senior Gleaner Writer
A member of the Chain of Hope UK team examines 14-year-old Nigel Gayle (centre), who received much-needed cardiac surgery, at the Bustamante Hospital for Children in St Andrew yesterday.
A member of the Chain of Hope UK team examines 14-year-old Nigel Gayle (centre), who received much-needed cardiac surgery, at the Bustamante Hospital for Children in St Andrew yesterday.
Fourteen-year-old Nigel Gayle.
Fourteen-year-old Nigel Gayle.
Gayle (left) with his mother, Traceyann Reid.
Gayle (left) with his mother, Traceyann Reid.
Emma Scanlan, chief executive officer of Chain of Hope UK, speaking with The Gleaner at the Bustamante Hospital for Children in St Andrew yesterday.
Emma Scanlan, chief executive officer of Chain of Hope UK, speaking with The Gleaner at the Bustamante Hospital for Children in St Andrew yesterday.
Gladstone Taylor/Multimedia Photo Editor
A team of doctors perform what was described as the first ever  anomalous left coronary artery from the pulmonary artery (ALCAPA) surgery at the Bustamante Hospital for Children in St Andrew, yesterday.
Gladstone Taylor/Multimedia Photo Editor A team of doctors perform what was described as the first ever anomalous left coronary artery from the pulmonary artery (ALCAPA) surgery at the Bustamante Hospital for Children in St Andrew, yesterday.
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Seated in a chair in the cardiac intensive care unit at the Bustamante Children’s Hospital in St Andrew on Wednesday, Traceyann Reid was focused on her son, Nigel Anthony Gayle, who lay resting on a bed an arm’s length away, hooked up to monitors and other equipment, recuperating from heart surgery the day before.

At 14 years old, the youngster was outside the age range of patients treated by the children’s hospital where patients below the age of 12 are seen, but his case was unique for another reason.

Nigel is among 10 children slated to have cardiac surgery performed by overseas heart specialists working alongside their Jamaican colleagues as part of the Chain of Hope team.

“What we mainly deal with is congenital heart disease,” Emma Scanlan, chief executive officer of Chain of Hope United Kingdom, told The Gleaner.

Nigel had been diagnosed with severe rheumatoid arthritis, which is an acquired heart disease. This disease eats away at the valves of the heart, and the teenager was in dire need of surgery to save his life and put him on the path to a normal childhood.

While he attended school every day, the heart condition prevented him from taking part in any sporting activity.

“No activity,” Reid said in underscoring the impact of the disease on her son’s life. With the surgery completed on Tuesday, she had been back at his bedside from 9:30 Wednesday morning – watching, hoping, and praying. On the day of the operation, she was not able to think straight.

PRAYING FOR THE BEST

Sighing deeply before answering, Reid explained, “A lot of things went through my mind. I just feel down and a lot of things just run in my mind, and I was praying for the best,” she admitted but that was the day before.

“Much better than yesterday,” was her spirited response when asked about how she was feeling on Wednesday.

“I feel amazing and happy to know that I can come and see him and talk with him. I am hoping that everything goes well with the healing so that he can try to do many activities and everything works out for him,” she answered fervently.

The optimism and hope displayed by the mother are consistent with what Chain of Hope aspires to bring to so many children and their families in developing countries across the world, according to Scanlan.

“As a cardiac charity, we believe that the life of every child is important, and it may be expensive, but we believe that it is extremely important to provide this care. We have specialists who are willing to volunteer their time, and we have been bringing them to this island for 20 years and have done over 65 missions, trips, of bringing specialists down, and we will continue to treat those children,” she declared.

Chain of Hope Jamaica is a spinoff of Chain of Hope, UK, which was established in 1996, and when founder and president Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub got the chance to expand its horizon, Jamaica was his first go-to option. The pioneering heart surgeon, who has done humanitarian work across the globe, had been lending a helping hand to Jamaica since the 1960s and was already famous for building the world’s largest heart transplant centre.

“The first destination was Jamaica to support the surgeons at the University Hospital of the West Indies with their programme, and he mobilised the teams to come down, bringing equipment that was much-needed and very expensive and still is today. That hasn’t changed. It is more expensive in the Caribbean than it is in Europe. One of the things that we are quite proud of is that we developed the first ever paediatric cardiac training module for nursing in Jamaica with the Ministry of Health 10 years ago.”

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com