Two heart patients, two different journeys, same life-changing result thanks to SickKidsMeet Marie Guerline and Penny. They lead very different lives almost 3,000 kilometres apart, but one thing unites them: their sons, David and William, both have congenital heart defects and were treated at SickKids.
Marie Guerline and David, Haiti
Before Marie Guerline and David, 5, left Haiti for Toronto, they had to travel to two other countries for testing because no hospital on the island nation had the necessary equipment for such a complex cardiac diagnosis - double outlet right ventricle, sub aortic ventricular septal defect and pulmonary hypertension.
At the age of one, David broke his leg and a local Haitian doctor detected a heart murmur during the assessment. David was referred to Haiti Cardiac Alliance, an organization dedicated to working with partners to scale up the availability of life-saving cardiac surgery to all Haitian children who need it, who helped facilitate three important steps in David’s health care journey.
First, they arranged for David’s first echo with their doctors and his first catheter diagnostic procedure in the Dominican Republic in 2016.
Next, they helped with David and Marie Guerline’s travel to Cayman Islands in the hopes of having surgery there. Unfortunately, after the hospital conducted their catheter procedure, they determined that David’s hypertension was too high and posed too many risks. Therefore, they decided not to proceed with the surgery.
Lastly, they helped connect Marie Guerline to SickKids. David was approved for surgery at SickKids through The Herbie Fund, an international patient program that offers financial support to children worldwide who require specialized care.
In December 2017, four years after his first diagnosis, David and his mom arrived in Toronto. Their host family greeted them with open arms and open hearts.
“At first I was very scared and stressed,” says Marie Guerline. “I didn’t know what to expect, coming to a new country – during winter – to live with strangers and for something as intense as my son’s open heart surgery. Now, I feel fully integrated into the family. We spend a lot of time together and this is an experience that will be forever engraved in my mind.”
At SickKids, Marie Guerline says “everything is different.” There is a lot more testing for David, and a lot more explanations, for them both. She marvelled at how the doctors took time to make drawings of David’s heart to illustrate how it should look and explain what would happen during and after his surgery. She also noted that the nurses have a lot of patience and affection, and were all very kind and calm, especially when David got a little panicky as his anaesthesia wore off.
David is very sweet and has a surprising amount of energy – people are often taken aback given he is a heart patient. “Now that he’s had his surgery,” says Marie Guerline, “he’s really on the move, smiling and running down the halls at SickKids. It’s amazing.”