Why teachers should support children battling heart-related diseases

Sinaida Ayodi, a mother of two. She successfully battled rheumatic heart disease. PHOTO/Tebby Otieno, Scholar Media Africa.
Sinaida Ayodi, a mother of two. She successfully battled rheumatic heart disease. PHOTO/Tebby Otieno, Scholar Media Africa.

Sinaida Ayodi started playing football in her early life in primary school.

Her passion for the game grew so much that she knew she would be a female footballer star in Kenya and Africa. 

Her interest for the game continued to grow when she joined high school. 

However, things took a different turn one day at her teenage age. At the time, she was a form two student.

When a problem crept

“I was an active footballer by then. I was playing football when I felt pain in all the joints, the legs, the ankles and the elbows. I could not run, it was so unfortunate,” she recalls.

Unaware of the cause of the pain in her joints, she went to a local clinic where she was treated for arthritis. At the time, the medics did not know she had a heart condition, as she would later be diagnosed.

“I was later referred to Kenyatta National Hospital and the cardiologist said I have rheumatic heart disease. So that is where I started getting treatment,” says Ayodi.

A different life begins

The treatment journey would later affect both her sports and academic performances. 

This was because of the monthly check-ups with her cardiologist at the Kenyatta National hospital. 

Being a government hospital, she says that all her hospital visits were scheduled on a weekday.

“I would miss class and also after the injection the following day, I wouldn’t sit upright and concentrate during lessons for at least three consecutive days after every injection because I was getting double injection,” she shares.

Ayodi says she prioritized her health, which saw her attend all her appointments with the cardiologist, which she says lasted for about six years. 

As a result, she missed most of her classes though she did not drop out of school.

She still scored a grade that enabled her to pursue her dream career course as a hotelier. 

“I was lucky I didn’t go through surgery. My treatment went well, and I was told I was healed and never to go for any check-up again as I was okay and my heart was good,” Ayodi remembers her cardiologist’s last words after her final appointment.

A replica occurs

Ayodi, now a mother of two, says her second-born daughter was also diagnosed with heart disease. 

Her experience with the disease helped her detect the signs and symptoms early enough that saw her seek medical assistance. At the time, her daughter was only six months old.

“One day, I saw my baby turning bluish. She was not breathing well and I am lucky I had a pediatrician who was my neighbour. I called out for help and she came and told me my baby was not okay. We rushed to the hospital, where the doctors took care of her. They noticed that she has a heart issue,” she narrates.

Her daughter was diagnosed with an atrial septal defect (ASD). 

ASD is a hole in the heart between the upper chambers (atria). The hole increases the amount of blood that flows through the lungs. The condition is present at birth (congenital heart defect).

She says this heart condition did not have any medication, making it a surgical one that was done last year, July. Her daughter is now five years old, in Pre-Primary 1 (PP1).

“We had to take her back to PP1 due to missing class for two terms during the treatment. I would say her performance now is poor because of the medicines after the theatre. Those drugs, according to the doctor, are very powerful, so it’s going to take time,” she explains.

Ayodi says that even after the surgery, she is still following up with the cardiologist to find out how her baby is doing. She says this helps her know what to do to support her daughter. 

She is keen to follow whatever the cardiologist tells her to do, including giving her baby the right food.

“I make sure that I take care of my baby because her coming out of the theater room alive is another chance I have been given to embrace her,” she said.

Because her baby stays away from her when she is in school, she says she has informed the teachers about her daughter’s condition. 

This, she says, she did even before the surgery and has been of great help to her daughter’s learning and treatment process.

“I explain to teachers that she is not completely fine. I alert them of some changes they might see, maybe physically or when teaching; she might be slow to understand. So the teachers now offer my daughter special attention,” said Ayodi.

Health clubs in schools

Most schools in the country now have health clubs that help them get close to children with various health conditions. 

One such school is Nairobi’s Umoja One Primary. 

Ann Okaro, a Senior Teacher there, told Scholar Media Africa that some teachers in different schools usually overlook children suffering from heart conditions.

She, however, hopes that teachers will start understanding the children’s conditions better by introducing health clubs in schools.

Ann Okaro, a Senior Teacher at Umoja One Primary School, Nairobi. She passionately minds the welfare of children battling heart-related diseases. PHOTO/Tebby Otieno, Scholar Media Africa.

“I’m normally one person who is very keen when I’m teaching because I’ve had health issues. When a child tells me they are not feeling well, I don’t just tell the child to go home and I normally insist to the parents to take the child to the hospital,” she said.

Ms. Okaro further reveals that she was diagnosed with an enlarged heart in 2007 after she started coughing blood. 

She says that she was treated and the heart condition is now a thing of the past. 

This makes her understand children with heart condition better and offer them support. She heads the health club at the school.

“Being a teacher, I come in between and tell them that there is hope at the end of that tunnel. No matter the condition, do not look at how the child got there because nobody writes an application to be born with a health condition,” she says.

A doctor’s perspective

Dr. Betty Gikonyo, a pediatric cardiologist, founder and former CEO, The Karen Hospital, says that children have two types of heart problems. 

One of them is congenital heart disease, which refers to one or several problems with the structure of the heart that are present at birth. 

“These children were with a heart problem from the time they were in the womb. Their heart did not form as it should completely and there are some areas that did not join correctly. Thus they end up with a hole,” she explains.

Types of congenital heart diseases

She further explains that there are two types of congenital heart diseases; those that doctors call blue babies and pink babies.

“Blue babies mean that there is no adequate oxygen going to the whole body and the reason why they don’t have adequate blood to the body is that they don’t have adequate blood going to the lungs for oxygenation to happen,” she says of the condition caused when a child has narrow blood vessels that take blood to the lungs.

She says that the blue babies get very tired because they are not having enough oxygen. 

Dr. Betty Gikonyo, a pediatric cardiologist, founder and former CEO, The Karen Hospital, during a past event. PHOTO/Courtesy.

She says this makes it difficult for them to breastfeed if they are new-born or participate in exercises in schools.

The second type of heart disease, she says, is a rheumatic heart disease which is much simpler to treat than congenital heart disease. 

The condition affects children born with a normal heart, and then they get a rheumatic fever with coughs and colds symptoms. 

She says rheumatic fever does not need surgery before it progresses to rheumatic heart disease.

“About seven to eight weeks after that sore throat, this child can now start saying they are having pain in the knees, usually the large joints, the elbows. That child has now developed rheumatic fever. Monthly injections are very painful but they are necessary to prevent rheumatic heart disease,” she says.

Dr. Betty Gikonyo says that treating heart conditions is expensive. 

As a result, they run a Heart to Heart Foundation to ensure that children from needy families access very expensive heart surgeries. 

The foundation has been in existence since 1993.

Speaking recently at The Karen Hospital during the annual teachers’ workshop on cardiac awareness, George Mutiso, Chief Officer of Social Services, said that the recently launched ICU facility at Mama Lucy Kibaki Hospital will complement the private hospitals in Nairobi county.

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“We will partner with all hospitals in Nairobi to make sure people get good health and even at one time we will be able to undertake those complicated and sophisticated surgeries like what The Karen Hospital is doing,” Mutiso said.

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Ms. Otieno is an award-winning journalist and features writer with interests in Health, Education and Environment.



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