Born and raised in Harar, Ethiopia (over 300 miles east of Addis Ababa), Melika was discovered to have a serious heart condition when she was six months old. Her doctors did not at first understand the severity of her problem. When she was 5 years old, she was already suffering from exhaustion. Her doctors told her she would get better with time. Though Melika was a good student and enjoyed learning, her condition made it difficult even to climb the steps into her classroom and to keep up with the other children at school. Sometimes she would cough up blood.
We now know that Melika suffered from a condition called Tetrology of Fallot. This is a congenital heart defect, causing blood without oxygen to circulate through the body. Commonly called “blue baby syndrome,” the only effective treatment is early surgical intervention. Without this repair, prognosis is poor and fatality can occur from heart failure. Survival into adulthood is not likely.
Melika searched for surgery unsuccessfully — for 18 years! Her aunt, a patient at a hospital in Addis Ababa, had heard of the work we do and referred Melika to our clinic. Fortunate to have already lived so long, it was important to act fast. We sent Melika for surgery in our India heart group earlier this year.
To prepare, she taught herself Hindi by watching Bollywood movies. Her medical team was shocked by her ability to communicate! She actually helped translate between Hindi and Amharic for our other patients. Melika was very scared to have surgery, but knew it was necessary. Now that she is back home in Harar, her life is completely changed. She can not only climb stairs with ease, but she can run and play sports with her friends. More importantly, she no longer is at risk of heart failure, and will likely live a long and normal life. She even fasted on Ramadan for the first time.
Melika is an enthusiastic biology student and hopes to become a doctor. To our donors, she says, “For the first time I can walk and be normal. Thank you so much! You gave me my life back!”
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