Huge cost to mend small hearts

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 November, 2011, 12:00am


Jenny Cheng Ying-foon was full of joy after giving birth to her first child 46 years ago. But the happiness was soon tinged by worry and uncertainty after the infant was diagnosed with congenital heart disease.

Four years later, her second baby was diagnosed with the condition. 'It was a terrible experience,' Cheng said. 'In those days, medical technology was rather backward. There was no internet, so information about the disease was very limited. Some parents thought the disease could be treated with Chinese medicine.'

But Cheng never lost hope and her two children went on to lead normal lives after having heart surgery. In 1994, she and a group of other parents set up the Children's Heart Foundation, which she now chairs.

The foundation sponsors expensive drugs and medical treatment for children with heart disease. It established the House of the Heart centre, which allows parents to remain nearby hospital when their children are having surgery.

One of Cheng's projects is raising money for the foundation's homograft programme, which transplants valves that have been removed from donated human hearts.

'A homograft refers to using a human aortic valve in surgery to repair congenital heart defects,' said Dr Adolphus Chau Kai-tung, chief of paediatric cardiology at Queen Mary Hospital.

'Children with heart disease can live normally after the surgery. They can run and jump, and have physical education lessons. Of course, the life of an athlete would be too much for them.

'So homografts greatly enhance their quality of life. But they are expensive' and are in limited supply, he said. 'We buy them from Britain's National Health Service trust, which sells homografts to hospitals.'

Between 30 and 40 children are placed on the waiting list for homografts every year but only eight to 10 operations can be performed because of the limited supply of valves.

The Children's Heart Foundation helped introduce homograft surgery to Hong Kong in 1999 through a medical exchange programme.

Today the homograft project is one of the beneficiaries of Operation Santa Claus, a holiday-season fund-raising appeal organised jointly by the South China Morning Post and Radio Television Hong Kong.

Operation Santa Claus (OSC) has identified 16 Hong Kong-based charities whose projects will bring relief to the needy in this city and on the mainland.

Chau estimates that with the operation's help, the foundation will be able to give financial help to the children who have the surgery at the hospital, allowing them to live healthy lives.

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