Israeli doctors save Swazi boys’ lives
Israeli doctors have saved the lives of two little Swazi boys who had congenital heart defects, ensuring that these boys would forever share a bond with each other and a small country in the Middle East.
The boys, Liyabonga Zwane, six, from Mbabane and Snothando Mkhuleko Dlamini, five, from a village near Piggs Peak in the Kingdom of Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), didn’t know each other before embarking on a miracle journey together to Israel in May.
Both boys were born with ventricular septal defect (VSD), a serious yet common congenital heart defect. It meant that they struggled almost from birth to breath and lead a normal life. The hole in their hearts made it difficult to survive let alone thrive.
After enduring years of ill health, uncertainty, and hopelessness, their plight was brought to the attention of Save A Child’s Heart (SACH), an Israeli-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) that saves the lives of critically ill children suffering from heart disease in countries where access to paediatric heart care is limited or non-existent.
“My beautiful boy is super fine, he’s healthy, he’s alive,” said an excited and grateful Nozipho Sakhile Magagula, Snothando’s mother, who like Liyabonga’s mother, Senamile Sukoluhle Thwala, travelled to Israel with her little boy for the surgery. Both moms have renewed hope that their sons will finally have a second chance at life after years of heartache.
“He’s coping well. I’m seeing small improvements every day,” Magagula told the SA Jewish Report.
“Having a sick child has been a painful journey, living life without knowing what the future holds, and always yearning for him to be healthy,” she said.
“When I heard that doctors in Israel could do something to save him, I was so excited. Going on an airplane with him for the first time was a beautiful experience. Coming here and experiencing the people’s kindness and care, it’s another feeling altogether. What Israel is doing for our African children is amazing. All I knew about Israel was that they were a people who believed in G-d. This is true. I thought I was going to lose him, but with G-d’s grace, here we are now.”
The boys’ successful life-saving cardiac surgeries were done at the Ida Cabakoff International Pediatric Cardiac Center for SACH at the Sylvan Adams Children’s Hospital at Wolfson Medical Center in Israel.
SACH Deputy Director Tamar Shapira said, “Both children are doing well. Snothando, who had his surgery on 28 May, has been back in the children’s home for three weeks and he’s recovering nicely. He has made friends from Zanzibar and Zambia, playing with them and our volunteers who come to the home on a daily basis. He looks good and happy, and will probably be discharged soon.”
Liyabonga, who had the operation on 19 June, is still recovering in hospital in the paediatric surgical department.
“He’s walking and playing in the playroom of the department,” said Shapira.
The boys’ condition, VSD, refers to the hole in the heart which occurs in the wall – the septum – that separates the heart’s lower chambers – ventricles – and allows blood to pass from the left to the right side of the heart. The oxygen-rich blood then gets pumped back to the lungs instead of out to the rest of the body, flooding the lungs, and making the heart work harder.
“Eswatini has no solutions for children born with heart disease,” said Shapira.
She said Snothando was two months old when Nozipho, a teacher, noticed something was wrong. He was always coughing and short of breath. She and the boy’s father, Lwazi, were heartbroken as their child’s conditioned worsened and medical options weren’t available to treat him.
“After some time, he seemed to get better, but he wasn’t growing like other children and didn’t speak well. It was painful for me to see,” she said.
Liyabonga was three days old when local doctors noticed that he wasn’t breathing properly. His mother, Senamile, also a teacher, regularly took her son to hospital more than two hours away from their home. The boy’s father, Mkhetfwa, who studies in Rwanda, became worried about his son’s health when told he wasn’t thriving.
“I worried about my son’s condition, I cried countless days and nights about how long he had in this world. I felt helpless,” Senamile said. “SACH has performed life-saving surgery and some of the improvements are instant. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude.”
The boys’ condition reached the ears of SACH some time ago, Shapira said, and plans were put in place for them to receive life-changing treatment abroad.
Eswatini has become the 69th country to benefit from the expertise and care provided by SACH.
The children and their families are being housed at the Legacy Heritage Children’s Home in Holon, while in Israel. They join children, family members, or caregivers from dozens of countries around the world.
The children are provided with the necessary medical evaluations, treatments, and post-operative care to improve their health and enhance their overall well-being, Shapira said.
SACH was founded by the late Dr Ami Cohen to help improve the level of paediatric cardiac care throughout the world. It brings children to Israel for care, performs medical missions abroad, and trains medical personnel, sharing expertise with colleagues in 69 countries. South African-born Morris Kahn is the honorary chairperson. The NGO has helped 6 600 children since 1995.
According to the organisation, of those children it has treated so far, 50% are from the Palestinian Authority and Gaza, Iraq, and Morocco, more than 40% are from Africa, and the remainder are from Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Americas. The organisation runs a weekly clinic for Palestinian children, and has treated more than 3 000 children there.
On average, SACH saves a life every 24 hours, Shapira said.
“SACH trains medical personnel from partner sites around the world at the Wolfson Medical Center in Israel in all facets of paediatric cardiac care. They then return to their home countries to help children in need,” she said.
The organisation also works with medical partners around the world to diagnose, teach, and perform lifesaving heart procedures.
Both Snothando and Liyabonga are looking forward to returning home to Eswatini soon. Snothando loves soccer, and is determined to play one day. Liyabonga enjoys mathematics and can’t wait for his new lease on life.
“Save a Child’s Heart has now expanded its reach to Eswatini, which is an exciting development,” said Shapira. “The organisation is committed to making a difference in the lives of children worldwide, one country at a time.”