Somali girl to get heart surgery

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Pretoria - All the 12-year-old girl had was her widowed mother’s last money and her hope that she would find safety in South Africa beyond war-torn Mogadishu.

For over 4 000km, crossing several countries, the child travelled alone, by bus, in a harrowing journey that stretched for 10 long days until she reached Pretoria.

All the way to her new life, her heart was giving in.

When she arrived in Pretoria, her reunion with her brother, who fled the unrest last year, was brief.

A day after they embraced, she collapsed, her heart again failing her.

Her brother rushed her to Kalafong hospital in Atteridgeville, where doctors diagnosed a heart condition.

But they could not mend her heart valve.

Doctors at Kalafong told her brother they could not operate on her, so they admitted her to Steve Biko Academic Hospital. But it refused to admit her – unless she produced the necessary documentation – or paid a R250 000 deposit.

And so, it sent her back to Kalafong to die.

Eventually, her heart was beating so vigorously, you could be see it outside her chest. Painfully thin, she cannot sit up or talk. Her eyes are glazed and yellow, her body ridden with jaundice.

“She is just skin and bone and vomit,” her brother said in his earlier court papers.

He had heard of Lawyers for Human Rights, and in his desperation, he approached Patricia Erasmus at their Pretoria office.

“When I went to see the child in hospital, she was very weak. She really was not doing well,” she said.

And in a victory for gravely ill undocumented minors, Erasmus and her team have ensured that the Steve Biko Academic Hospital has now admitted her to its paediatric cardiology unit for assessment and treatment.

“It’s one of the happiest days of my life,” her brother said on Friday.

On Thursday night, on the eve of the court order, the Health Department agreed to settle the matter, and the terms of the lengthy settlement was made an order of court.

“She will now be treated like any South African citizen. She will first be assessed by the cardiologist. At the moment she is very weak and fragile… but the point is she will get the treatment like any citizen, her documentation is no longer a barrier to treatment.”

The siblings cannot be named as the girl is a minor.

The health authorities did not file any papers opposing the application or deliver any argument to court.

North Gauteng High Court Judge Johan Louw was told the child was in no condition to undergo surgery and would in any event have to wait her turn as there were about 47 other children on the hospital’s waiting list needing similar operations.

“For now I just want my sister to get better and am happy that there is hope for her. She has been in hospital for 15 days and her condition is critical. She is thin and it is clear her life is in danger if she does not get help,” her brother said.

A concerned Judge Louw was given the reassurance that the child would receive the operation as soon as it was possible.

Steve Biko has now denied the girl was earlier refused admission or that the hospital required a R250 000 deposit and has launched its own investigation.

“Look, the amount was excessive and prohibitive for them accessing the right to emergency health care. There were indications from all the respondents that the amount was too high. They deny they ever asked for money, which is untrue.”

Gauteng Health Department spokesman Prince Hamnca was unavailable for further comment on Friday.

Immediately after the order was granted, her brother visited his sister in hospital.

“She is now between life and death,” her cousin said.

“We are just happy that she is able to have the operation now, but we know it could take some time.”

Pretoria News



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