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Heart transplants pump life into Vietnamese children

Sunday, February 09, 2020, 11:24 GMT+7
Heart transplants pump life into Vietnamese children
Former dilated cardiomyopathy patient Pham Van Co (R), 17, now lives a blissful life with his mother (L) thanks to a heart transplant in 2018.

Two Vietnamese children have been given a second chance at life, thanks to heart donations and the growing organ transplant capabilities of Vietnam’s medical professionals.   

According to the National Organ Donation Center, the number of organ donors in Vietnam has ballooned over the past two years, with 31,000 current registered donors, a whopping 19,000 of whom signed up in 2019 alone.

The country’s medical professionals see these numbers as an astounding success.

Within the first 12 months of the center’s establishment in 2013, just 265 people had registered.

That number has since grown exponentially, allowing Vietnam’s medical professionals to give a second chance at life to those in need.

A chance at life

Suffering from dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition that weakens the heart’s ability to pump blood due to the enlargement of the left ventricle, Pham Van Co was given a grim prognosis until 2018 when doctors told him a heart had been donated and a transplant would give him a new shot at life.

Co’s brother had died from the same heart problem when he was 15 and Co hoped the surgery would help him avoid the same fate.

On June 13, 2018, Co and his mother gave their consent for the surgery when the boy was just 15 years old.

The organ was immediately transferred from Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, to the central city of Hue.

It arrived at 11:00 pm on the same day and doctors immediately began preforming the surgery.

The following morning at 9:00 am, doctors declared the surgery a success and Co and his mother were reunited.

Since recovering, Co has begun high school plans to take up evening bartending and culinary classes at a vocational training center in Hue.

He also helps his mother sell goods at a local market each morning.

“I am so grateful. I used to think of suicide when I was in pain, but now I love my healthy body more than ever,” Co said.

“I plan to live a meaningful life as long as this heart still beats so that I won’t let down my family members, the doctors who treated me, and the person who donated their heart.”

The perfect match

Eleven-year-old Ha Ngoc Chi lives in a small village behind Na Sam Mountain in the northern province of Lang Son.

Both Chi and her brother, Manh, suffered from congenital dilated cardiomyopathy.

Manh was diagnosed with the condition in 2015 and sadly lost his life after a three-year battle against it. 

“In July 2018, his sister was diagnosed with the same disorder. We were basically thrown into a frenzy of hospital visits,” said Chi’s mother, 48-year-old Nguyen Thi Huong.

Manh succumbed to his disease in February 2019 but the family had no time to grieve as they still had to focus on their living daughter, Chi, who had been inflicted with several types of effusions and needed treatment every 2-3 days.

Chi thought she was destined for the same fate as her brother until doctors notified her that a donated heart had just become available.

“The doctors told me that only a cardiac transplant could save her, but even with VND1 billion [US$43,000] we still weren’t able to get a heart right away. We had to wait for the suitable donor,” the mother said.

The family was forced to wait from February 2019 until September 2019 when a suitable match became available.

“On September 3, the hospital said there was a heart for her, but it turned out to be a bad match. We were scared to death, fearing our child would not survive,” Huong explained.

Then, on September 30, Chi was given the news that a 37-year-old man who had died in a traffic accident was a registered organ donor, as well as a perfect match.

Chi was immediately operated on and, four days later, woke up ready for the new life that lay before her.  

“The doctor said that we are lucky because there are a lot more donors these days,” her mother said.

“In the past, everyone thought that a dead person should be whole in body. If they still thought that way, my child might have lost her chance at life.”

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