x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Mending a broken heart saves the life of nine-month-old Suleiman

Operation on Syrian baby at Sheikh Khalifa Medical Centre is paid for by the Red Crescent Authority.

"It's like my baby was born all over again now," says Hana'a Karabash after a successful heart operation on her son Suleiman.

ABU DHABI // Until three weeks ago, Suleiman Karabash was a listless baby, showing no interest in his toys or surroundings. He cried almost constantly, turning a sickly shade of blue every time. He was on five medications which needed to be given to him every two hours, day and night. Now, the nine-month-old boy is a changed baby, alert and enthusiastic. His mother, Hana'a Karabash, said she is amazed at the transformation. "He always seemed like such a tired baby to me," she said. "Now he is so curious about everything, as babies should be, and actually responds to me when I play with him." In two more weeks, Suleiman's doctors at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City (SKMC) promise that he will be as healthy, normal and active as any baby his age. They expect him to develop and grow normally, and return with his mother to their home in Damascus. That marks a tremendous improvement in his condition. When he was born, last July, he had three holes in his heart. Doctors said it was touch-and-go whether he would survive. "Both myself and my husband, who is a doctor, noticed that Suleiman had a very fast heart rate," said Mrs Karabash, who teaches French. A month after he was born, Suleiman's parents were told he had a congenital heart disease known as a ventricular septal defect. The open-heart surgery he needed was not available in Syria for a baby weighing less than 10kg. "We were told he was an emergency case and needed the operation immediately, and that we'd have to find a way to do it soon if we did not want to wait until he weighed 10kg and could do it in Syria," Mrs Karabash said. Turning to the internet, the mother of three learnt that SKMC had the facilities and expertise to conduct the surgery. From there, the challenge was finding funding. "I approached the Red Crescent in Syria and told them about the hospital in Abu Dhabi, and I approached the UAE Embassy in Damascus as well," she said. The UAE Red Crescent Authority (RCA) stepped in, on the instructions of Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed, the Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the RCA. The authority's heart initiative programme, which provides medical services to needy patients, sponsored Mrs Karabash and her son's trip to the UAE and connected them with SKMC. They arrived in Abu Dhabi on March 16. Two days later Mrs Karabash sat with Sana'a, a volunteer from the RCA, for three-and-a-half hours, while her son's tiny heart was repaired. "I was very, very tense and scared, waiting helplessly," she said. "I don't know why. I felt that if he went into that room I might never see him again. It was a great help to have Sana'a with me, keeping me sane." The surgery was a success. Mrs Karabash has been told her son should have no further complications. Suleiman left the hospital on Wednesday, 23 days after being admitted. "It's like my baby was born all over again now, and really enjoying his childhood, happy and pain-free and active," Mrs Karabash said. "Before he would just lie there." Suleiman has one more round of medicine to go, which will last for two weeks. His mother no longer has to check to make sure he is still breathing every few minutes, terrified that she might lose him. Today, Suleiman weighs 6kg and is growing, eager to be played with and always sporting a toothless grin. He no longer is unaware of who picks him up or of his mother's absence from a room; he bounces with excitement and wriggles in his car seat every time he catches a glimpse of her. It is, she said, "a true miracle". "I can't wait for his father and siblings and grandmother to see him like this," she said. "They are going to be as shocked and amazed as I still am." hkhalaf@thenational.ae