Imagine a situation where you are forced to believe that one of your close friends at age 18, who is not married, is pregnant.
But, the truth was later found out that she was not pregnant, rather something unusual has happened to her. Her heart is failing- it does not pump blood effectively into the brain, as usual, thus swelling her liver and filling her abdominal glands with fluids.
This happened to Florence Ndimubakunzi, a teenager from Rwanda.
There are so many people like Florence who reside in some poor African and Asian countries suffering from heart disease. This disease developed during childhood when they contracted a sore throat – a bacterial disease caused by the gram-positive cocci family known as streptococci.
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This infection, though, is common in the US and other rich countries; children who battle it are quickly diagnosed with strep and actions are swiftly taken to cure them with penicillin or other cheap and effective antibiotics.
However, while it is rampant in poor and undeveloped countries, strep throat in undiagnosed. This could be killing the individual gradually. Also, research has found that if not treated, it could lead to rheumatic heart disease and rheumatic fever.
Worldwide it has been reported in 2015 that nearly 33.4 million people had rheumatic heart disease, and an approximate number of 319,400 died of the disease.
Hoping that things would turn out to be good for her, Florence and her mother met with a well-qualified doctor from a humanitarian group, Team Heart, who files to Rwanda from the US and Canada once a year, to perform a valve-replacement surgery for her.
During the screening, 100 individuals suffering from sore throat were there to be screened, but only a few, 16 of them, passed a successful operation.
A Harvard cardiologist, Dr. Pat Come, who was one of those present ran a stethoscope on Florence’s chest and neck and examined the belly. Also, a sonographer, Marilyn Riley from Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston ran an ultrasound on her chest. The result showed that her heart valves were in motion.
According to Dr. Come, Florence was discovered to have two diseases of the valves. He said:
“But the operative mortality is likely too high. Medical therapy is the best option.”
However, a translator in Kinyarwanda made it clear that Florence was ‘too’ sick for medical surgery. She asked for drugs that could cure her. Did she receive a good response from one of the doctors? In the words of Dr. Come that “no, there is no drug for it. But there are drugs that could keep you ‘on even kneels’” is proof that there is no drug to cure her. Nevertheless, still full of hopes she asked if her belly would reduce and the drugs to use. Dr. Come recommended a drug, Lasix, to her. The drug is so powerful that it “might help you get rid of your excess fluid.”
This teenager whose dream was to be a pediatrician said she had to stop attending school since no successful operation was performed on her and no improvement has been seen.
For ten years, she has been battling this disease, and now the doctors have said that the once-possibly-cured disease is impossible to cure. This has got Florence absolutely devastated. In her words, she said: “It’s a disappointment.” She is disappointed that no operation could cure her of the deadly disease.
Yes, prevention is extremely ideal. But the preventive measures the US government and other rich countries use are far expensive in Rwanda.
Because of this, some doctors had advised that skipping the test and just administering penicillin would suffice. Others, however, worry that antibiotic resistance and penicillin allergies would surface.
Rwanda, a populated country of 12 million citizens, has only 5 cardiologists and no heart surgeon to perform heart surgery.
The reason is, possibly, because of what happened in 1994 when genocide killed about a million citizens. So priority has been given to combat common diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV; not heart disease.