From Italy, the gift of life

Children at Dubai Hospital are given a new lease of life by doctors from Italy who perform complex open-heart surgery on six youngsters.

DUBAI // A number of seriously ill children at Dubai Hospital have been given a new lease on life after a visiting delegation of Italian doctors performed operations in conjunction with local doctors to rectify their heart conditions.

The charity mission visits the Dubai Hospital five times a year and performs complex open-heart surgery and catherisation procedures with local physicians. The costs for Emirati patients are funded by the Dubai Health Authority. Expatriates are covered by the Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum Humanitarian and Charity Establishment.

"This is a perfect cooperation between the two sides," said Giorgio Starace, the Italian ambassador to the UAE. "It is important not only for clinical reasons but also because we will be able to increase our exchange in the crucial sector of science and technology."

Six open-heart surgeries and four catherisation procedures were successfully performed during the period by a visiting team comprised of three surgeons, one anaesthetist, one intensivist, one cardiologist intensivist and two intensive care nurses. A three-year-old Emirati child with congenital heart disease was operated on yesterday.

"We travel to different parts of the world to help treat children with congenital heart disease as part of the Association for Children with Heart Disease in the World," said Dr Alessandro Giamberti, a surgeon from the IRCCS Policlinico San Donato. "The child had surgery when he was a year old but had developed a narrowing at the origin of the left pulmonary artery. We enlarged it with a prosthetic patch."

The assistance did not go unappreciated. The mother of Amani Humaid, a three-year-old Emirati girl, was thankful for all the support she received, saying the expertise of the Italian doctors was a gift she had not expected.

"I am thankful and relieved at the same time," said Khadra Humaid. "I feel fortunate that a team of local doctors gave me the necessary advice and that the surgery was performed in cooperation with the doctors from Italy."

Dr Abdallah Raweh, an Emirati doctor who works as a cardiac surgeon with IRCCS Policlinico San Donato, helped organise the initiative between the two hospitals five years ago. He has also been the president of the Italian-Emirates Friendship Association since 2004 after studying in Italy.

"We are keen to do our best for the UAE and for people who cannot afford to be treated by helping everyone who needs our assistance," said Dr Raweh. "We are fortunate to be given the support of the leaders in this country."

The Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum foundation extends its support to people who require complex cardiac operations but are unable to afford the expenses, explained Ebrahim Bu Melha, the deputy chairman of the establishment's board of trustees.

"Providing medical care to those in need is one of our most important initiatives," said Mr Bu Melha. "We coordinate our efforts with Dubai Health Authority to help treat people with complex heart conditions."

Local doctors acknowledged that the programme provided an excellent chance to work as a team on cardiac cases and to observe new procedures.

"It is an opportunity to partner with surgeons from Italy," said Dr Obaid al Jassim, the Dubai Hospital consultant cardiac surgeon and the head of its cardiothoratic surgery department.

"The costs vary depending on the condition, type of intervention needed and length of stay in the ICU."

Mothers sitting by their children's bedside were pleasantly surprised when Giorgio Starace, the Italian ambassador to the UAE, and the footballer Fabio Cannavaro, the former captain of Italy and former Juventus defender who now plays for the Pro League team Al Ahli, visited the children with top officials from the Dubai Health Authority and the foundation.

Cannavaro and Mr Starace presented children with flowers and flags of the UAE and Italy to extend their well wishes.

"I tried to give the children my well wishes and a smile to cheer them up," said Cannavaro. "People in this country have a very big heart."