No distance seems too far to travel for Wahab Senyonga and Cephas Bukenya. The boys recently flew about 9,000 miles from their home in Uganda, Africa, to SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center in St. Louis for cardiology care.
Wahab, 15, and Cephas, 2, were offered the hope for a better life with the help of Cardinal Glennon and a Christian relief organization called Samaritan’s Purse.
Their mothers accompanied them on their trip to receive pulmonary valve balloon angioplasty donated by pediatric cardiologist Saadeh Al-Jureidini, M.D.
Wahab and Cephas were both diagnosed with pulmonary stenosis, which involves narrowing of the valve that leads from the right side of the heart to the lungs.
“This means that the right side of the heart must work extra hard to push blood through a very tight space to the lungs,” said Michael Czajka, RN, a pediatric nurse practioner in Cardinal Glennon’s Cardiology Department.
Emily Arneson, RN, a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit nurse on staff, made it possible for the boys to receive necessary health care at Cardinal Glennon. Arneson also works for Samaritan’s Purse, an international organization that provides food, medical care and other assistance to people in need around the world. Recipients of care are often victims of war, poverty, natural disaster, disease and famine.
Arneson traveled to Uganda to bring Wahab and Cephas to Cardinal Glennon for cardiology procedures as part of the organization’s Children’s Heart Project. The boys lack health facilities and equipment in their home country.
“It took more than 4 months of planning and organization for this day to happen,” Czajka said.
On Oct. 30, Dr. Jureidini performed pulmonary valve balloon angioplasty for Wahab and Cephas. During this procedure, a tiny balloon was inserted into each boy’s narrow valve. The balloon was then inflated to enlarge and relieve pressure to the enclosed space, improving blood circulation.
Cephas also had an atrial septal defect (ASD), which is a hole between the top chambers of the heart. Dr. Jureidini placed a mesh-like device to close the hole.
After successful procedures and one night in the Transitional Care Unit at Cardinal Glennon, the boys and their mothers stayed with host parents Dennis and Vicki Edwards for four weeks in St. Louis before returning home to a healthier life in Uganda.
Lending a Hand
Dennis and Vicki Edwards learned about Samaritan’s Purse first project in St. Louis through their church, and immediately felt an inclination to help. Their daughter Autumn, 22, overcame heart complications early in life, similar to Wahab and Cephas. Serving as a host family was an opportunity to give hope to the boys and their mothers.
“When our pastor mentioned that the boys needed a place to stay, my husband and daughter nudged me on both sides,” said Vicki Edwards. “We knew we would volunteer.”
Heart to Heart Across the World
The Edwards family hopes to travel to Uganda in coming years to see their new friends again. Cephas’ mother, thankful for the warmth and generosity of the Edwards family, knows they will all see each other in heaven some day.
Expressing gratitude to everyone who assisted in his care at Cardinal Glennon, Wahab kindly said in his native Swahili language, “Ahsante Sana!”
“Thank you very much.”
The Children’s Heart Project of Samaritan’s Purse seeks children in developing nations who need heart surgery and matches them with hospitals and physicians in North America who willingly donate their time and services. Samaritan’s Purse provides round-trip travel for the patient, one parent and an interpreter, and arranges housing for the group with a host family in the hospital’s community. More than 450 children from nine countries have received cardiology care in North America because of the Children’s Heart Project.
Learn more about Samaritan’s Purse.