New lease of life

July 1, 2018

A FIJIAN girl with a congenital heart defect has a new lease of life thanks to the Israeli Government. Abigail Gaunavou, 3, was born with an Arterial Septal Defect — a hole in the wall that separates the two top chambers of the heart. When her parents, Saimoni Gaunavou and Margaret Kane, were informed by visiting medical officials that they would have to wait before she could receive treatment, they did not lose hope.
“The doctors at the Colonial War Memorial Hospital recommended that Abigail wait until she turned one because there was a chance that the hole would close naturally,” Mr Gaunavou said.
However, a year later, the hole had not closed and Abigail was referred to a visiting Indian team from the Sahyadri Speciality Pacific Hospital Ltd (SSPHL) in 2016.
“SSPHL advised that Abigail wait for another three years before she could be referred for open heart surgery.
“In 2017, Abigail was also seen by the visiting volunteers team from New Zealand Hearts Four Kids Foundation and they recommended she wait for five years.”

Mr Gaunavou contacted non-profit organisation (NGO) Israeli oganisation Save A Child’s Heart (SACH) last year. After reviewing Abigail’s documentation, SACH agreed to fly her over with her parents to have open heart surgery in Israel this year. Israeli heart specialists checked Abigail thoroughly the day after she arrived in Israel and recommended that they perform a procedure called catheterisation — an advanced procedure that is safer and does not require invasive open heart surgery. Six days after they arrived in Israel, she underwent surgery at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, Israel. Catheterisation basically involves inserting a thin catheter (tube) into a tiny hole on the femoral artery on the right thigh and pushing the tube gently until it reaches the heart. Guided by a number of electronic sensors, the heart specialists then open a device from inside the catheter (tube) right on the abnormal hole in the heart and the device inflates like a balloon and seals the hole.

“I was scared for my daughter’s life,” said Mrs Gaunavou. “I was always worried knowing that Abigail had the heart condition and that she wouldn’t be like normal kids and cannot do the physical activities that children do. “After this lifesaving procedure done by SACH, I am very happy and I really appreciate all that they’ve done to save our daughter Abigail and she is now like any other child born with a normal heart. “I didn’t believe it was possible to fly to the other side of the world to Israel and get top-class medical expertise that would save our daughter. “I would like to sincerely thank SACH and all the wonderful people who made this possible. “I would also like to acknowledge Israel’s Pacific Islands Adviser Yaron Sultan Dadon and Israeli ambassador to the Pacific Tibor Shalev Schlosser for visiting Abigail during our stay in Israel and I cannot express how much relief and meaning this journey has made. “I convey my appreciation to all the wonderful doctors and specialists in the Israeli Wolfson Medical Centre in Holon, Israel.”

*This reporter had the opportunity to visit Abigail at Wolfson Medical Centre.