By Ifeoma Ekeke

 PLAGUED by a congenital defect and shackled by sub-optimal investment in health infrastructure in the country, many of their ilk, as well as their loved ones are condemned to a miserable life. Stunted growth, shortness of breath, build up of blood and fluid in the lungs, legs, ankles and feet are the usual trademarks. Some of them hardly know life as other children know it. Welcome to the hurting world of children living with a hole in the heart.

By quirk of fate, children with the hole-in-the-heart defect are born with it. This is called a congenital condition. Most of the time, it is not known why they have a hole in the heart. They are not a product of reckless lifestyle or abuse of prohibited substance by their mothers during pregnancy. Medical science has absolved most parents of blame, with the exception of those with a hereditary heart condition, in the plight of this special breed of children.

There are cases that do not need treatment because the hole-in-the-heart is small and is expected to close up after sometime.

However, cases of hole in the heart that need treatment are best repaired in infancy or early childhood. Adults are also treated for holes in the heart if problems develop.

Unfortunately, cases of hole in the heart which could only be treated overseas abound in Nigeria, especially among folks who ordinarily cannot afford local healthcare services. This makes the cases of the teeming number of children with this ailment very pathetic because cutting edge medical services which can ameliorate their condition is beyond their reach due to the financial status of their parents.

However, reprieve is coming the way of many families with hole-in-the-heart children from Nigeria’s  telecommunications company. MTN, through its Corporate Social Investment vehicle, MTN Foundation. The Foundation  has been sponsoring children with such life-threatening conditions to India and South Africa for treatment in the last couple of years.

The Foundation has already successfully intervened in at least 19 of such cases. Last month, the Foundation dried the tears of another five families with children whose lives were threatened by this defect.

They are the Donald family from Benue State, Abiola family from Kwara State, Lasisi family from Ogun State, Edobor family from Edo State and the Oladokun family from Osun State, respectively. Their children had their heart defects remedied in India on the bill of MTN Foundation.

Mrs. Grace Donald, the mother of 6-year-old Emmanuel Donald, is a full-time housewife. She opted to be at home full time to take care of her children considering the corrupting influence of the neighbourhood where they reside, and also because her husband, a policeman is always out on the beat.

After her child was diagnosed to have a hole in the heart, Grace was told at the General Hospital, Ikeja that she had to raise N2 million to enable her to take him to India for an open heart operation. Her son was ill; she was at a crossroads. Grace Donald and her husband did not know where to begin from until one of their friends advised them
to approach MTN Nigeria for help.

Recounting her ordeal, Grace said, “Emmanuel, my six year old son was ill and I took him to the health centre but I was referred to the General Hospital in Ikeja. That was in 2008. We did tests at the General Hospital and I was told he had a heart problem. I did not know what to do, or where to start from until one of our friends gave me the address of MTN, and I went to their office. MTN has made me happy.

“I did not imagine that we could ever go to India to get him treated.

But MTN sent me to India and when I got to India, I still could not believe it. When we arrived in India, they ran tests on Emmanuel before taking him to the theatre from 9am to 5pm in the evening. After the doctors brought him out, his body was weak but the doctors told me he was alright. Before the operation, he could not walk but now he
walks and eats very well. My only prayer is that God will continue to bless MTN”.

More pitiful is the case of Ms. Patience Edobor, a single parent who lost her job to circumstances associated with her daughter’s illness.

Her four-year-old daughter, Bosco Wealth was always ill and gasping for breath. One would imagine that she was under severe asthmatic attack when breathing. Her temperature was always very high and she could not walk until she was over two years old. Young Bosco’s state of health and her constant need for full parental attention at all times cost Patience her job as a clearing and forwarding agent.

With her condition worsening and having lost her job, Patience Edobor was determined to find a lasting solution to her child’s ailment. She opted for General Hospital, Ikeja, thinking specialists at the popular Lagos hospital are fully equipped to halt the deterioration of her daughter’s health. At the hospital, several tests were conducted and the verdict was damning. Bosco Wealth has a congenital heart ailment and money was urgently needed for surgery to save her life.

“When I was told that my daughter had a hole in her heart and that I would need money for surgery, I thought I was dreaming. I asked myself ‘where do you think you will get N2.5 million from? But they just said, go and get N2.5 million for surgery. Go and look for money. I  just thought to myself, maybe this people do not know what they were doing. How can my daughter have a hole in the health?

“For the first three months, I did not do anything about it. I just said my God will heal her. But somebody now said the only thing that will remove that hole from her heart is surgery. I saw other people with similar problem going out to look for money. I decided to do the same. I started moving from church to church in search of help. I also went to PM News, and my daughter was on the pages of PM News for one week. People called to support but the money I got was not up to thirty thousand Naira”, Patience reveals.

By chance however, she decided to contact MTN. After recharging her phone, she got a message thanking her for choosing the network, and also informing her of the existence of MTN Foundation and what it is doing to impact lives. She visited MTN Office, where she dropped an appeal letter and picture of her daughter in January 2010. After dropping the letter, Patience Edobor got no response, and she gave up hope.

Looking back, she says, “I just forgot about MTN when I did not get any response from them. I thought maybe they did not want to help me. I also thought, why would they even help me? Am I their responsibility? Or maybe they have decided to help some other people.

Or they do not even have money. I thought about different reasons why they would not help me. I just forgot about MTN and went to another newspaper for help. However, MTN later called me and when they did, I did not believe it. I could not sleep that night. I told everybody that I received a call from MTN. MTN paid for my passport and visa. I went to India with my daughter for treatment on their bill”.

Bosoko Wealth has gone to India for surgery, and she is back. She however has many more rivers to cross. Her case is complicated. Unlike other children that spent three weeks in India, she spent seven weeks, and will still have to return to India for two more surgeries on the bill of MTN Nigeria. Meanwhile, she has been put on special medication for a year to stabilise her condition.

Explaining MTN’s decision to intervene in the children’s cases, General Manager, Corporate Communications of MTN Nigeria, Funmi Omogbenigun, says the company is touched by the plight of children with the hole-in-the-heart defect, especially the ones whose parents are helpless because of lack of funds; hence the decision to come to their aid in remedying a curable ailment. She disclosed that the foundation had no special relationship with the beneficiaries prior to their selection. She said the Foundation receive requests from parents and also pick out some interesting cases from TV, radio and newspapers.

“We select the most critical ones, especially young ones. We generally send them to South Africa or India for treatment. At our office in Lagos, we have in-house medical department and our doctors would assess and contact other doctors in different parts of the world. We procure for them visas, passports, air tickets, health certificates and any other thing they would need to travel for treatment,” she


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