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Kind hearts give children a second life

By Rukiya Makuma

Indian heart doctor planning 2,000-bed hospital in Uganda

Daliya Muhindo, 12, once suffered heart failure. She was referred to the Uganda Heart Institute in Mulago Hospital by Kagambe hospital. At Mulago it was discovered that she had a hole in the upper chamber of her heart and required an operation in India.

Her father, Thembo Doviko, a 42-year old self-employed man from Kasese district recalls the shock he suffered when he got the budget for the trip; US$ 1,460 ( approx. Shs 3 million).

I just ignored this because that money was way beyond my means, Doviko recalls.

After the initial shock, he kept on applying to various non-governmental organisations with the hope of securing help for his daughter. When the Indian Association called for applications, he applied and was selected.

The treatment was good and for the one month we stayed in India we did not pay a single cent, he says, Daliyas condition is now stable she no longer has those constant fevers, malaria and flu.

The Indian Association in Uganda catered for air ticket, visas, accommodation, feeding for father and child. And an Indian doctor, Devi Prasad Shetty, chairman of the Narayana Hrudayalaya Hospitals, did the operation free of charge. However, there is another person whom Daliya has to thank for her free operation. This is Vadera Narendra, a former heart patient and member of the Indian Association in Uganda.

In 2002 Vadera had a heart operation in India; it is from here that the idea was born. After undergoing the surgery, I had returned to India for a check-up in 2005. While talking with Dr Shetty, he happened to show me the pediatric ward then, with 40 children. I was moved. He also told me that he is willing to provide five children from Uganda free heart correction procedures and to another 20 of them at minimal cost. His only condition was that the children should be needy, Vadera recalls.

“When I came back in Uganda, I did not relax, I embarked on a journey of looking for the needy children, we faced some challenges but we did not give up nevertheless, we called for applications from the most needy.”

To date, 16 children have been successfully operated through Vadera’s efforts. Another batch of children is to be operated in December. The Indian Association of Uganda alone has contributed about Shs 300 million to cater for the patients travel and stay in India.  The visas of all the 16 patients with their relatives are provided free by the Indian High Commission.

Vadera, a soft-spoken man whose eyes light up and his voice becomes intense when talking about helping poor souls, says he contacts NGOs and other organisations in Uganda to fund the air ticket, feeding, and accommodation for both the patients and their relatives.

During our interview at his office at UMA Show Grounds in Nakawa, it is easy to see how much he adores Dr. Shetty, the man who gave him a second chance in life. Vadera works passionately to do the same for others. Evelyn Nyafwono, 33, a hairdresser in Mbuya, a suburb in Kampala is a beneficiary of Vaderas efforts. Her son, Charles Ofwono, 10, is also a beneficiary of a free heart operation in India.

There was no way I could afford all that money to look after my son, she says, the kind of job I do cannot give me such luxuries.

But Vadera says simply that its gratifying when you see the children lift their hands from the hospital bed to thank the sponsors.

Vadera and Dr Shetty are working to set up a 2,000-bed hospital in Uganda. Mulago Hospital, which is the biggest in Uganda, has 500 beds. The multi-specialty hospital will cater for cancer, brain surgery, and other complex procedures for which patients are now referred abroad. It will be a regional hospital, targeting patients from Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda also.

Dr.  Shetty has offered to staff and equip the hospital. He will monitor the progress of the hospital for 10 years until the government of Uganda feels it is ready to take on the facility. The onus is now upon us to identify a suitable piece of land that is easily accessible and the project will begin, says Vadera.

At thanks giving ceremony for 16 children who had successful heart operations in India that was held at the Indian Association office in Nakasero, Kampala, on Feb. 26, Hope Mwesigye, the Minister of Agriculture, Animal, Industry and Fisheries announced that the government of Uganda had pledged 50 acres of land to the Indian Association for the construction of the hospital.

Vadera says they are counting on the government to provide the promised land and to fulfill the necessary documents required before the project sets off.

He promises to continue helping the needy and ensure the project takes off.

There is hope for these young souls who have never known what it means to have a healthy heart, he says. Together with Dr. Shetty and the Indian community in Uganda, Vadera is determined to restore the hope of these young souls and improve their lives.

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