Almost 30 years after helping its first Grenadian child obtain critical heart care, the Grenada Heart Foundation (GHF), a charitable, non-profit organization administered by St. George’s University, sent its milestone 300th patient, Jaydee, to the Richmond Hospital in Virginia for heart surgery. Surgeries like Jaydee’s can cost up to $1 million USD, but thanks to the GHF and the many hospitals, cardiologists, and medical and business organizations that partner with and support the organization, the surgery was provided at no cost to him or his family.
This was 14-year-old Jaydee’s second surgery to correct his congenital heart defect. When he was six months old, the GHF facilitated his first surgery in New Jersey. Now a quiet and intelligent secondary school student who loves playing soccer, he outgrew the first surgery and required another.
“Having our 300th patient is an amazing milestone,” said Jennifer Solomon, a Registered Nurse and GHF Coordinator for the past 10 years. “Just think of those kids who would not be here, not have the opportunity to have their own children or make a difference in their communities or Grenada.”
According to Ms. Solomon, on average one child in every hundred is born with a heart defect, with the most common ones being atrial and ventricular septal disorders (ASD and VSD) and patent ductus arteriosus (PDA). Not all cases require surgery, and with technological advances, some can be corrected with less invasive treatments. Jaydee’s case was among the more complex so his surgery required two surgeons.
“Richmond hospital can only offer this type of surgery once a year and Jaydee was so grateful for this opportunity,” said Ms. Solomon. “It’s all about pitching in and making it work.” Most surgeries organized by the GHF cost a minimum of $50,000 USD. Complex cases like Jaydee’s are typically more costly. Had it not been for the service provided by the GHF and The Children’s Health Organization Relief and Education Services (CHORES), most Grenadian patients would have to travel to larger Caribbean islands just to see a cardiologist, then save and/or personally raise funds to pay for treatment.
Over the past 30 years, the GHF has helped babies, children of all ages and young adults needing surgery due to congenital defects or childhood illnesses such as rheumatic heart disease. CHORES works closely with GHF to identify cases and provide pre- and post-surgery care to patients.
To assist with organizing a child’s surgery, GHF offers help with acquiring visas and passports, accommodation and flight arrangements, coordination with surgeons’ schedules, social support, and pre-operation and cultural teaching for patients and their families.
The GHF pulls it all off with the help of the Ministry of Health, CHORES, social workers, and recently a volunteer board which helps with fundraising and community outreaches.
“The mothers are the real heroes,” Ms. Solomon said. “As a mother myself, I am always in awe of them. They take it all in stride despite being very nervous and worried.”
The work of the GHF doesn’t stop at organizing surgeries. The organization also does work in health prevention and supports the goals of Grenada’s Ministry of Health towards decreasing the prevalence of heart disease and hypertension. The GHF coordinator sits on several health advisory boards including one which focuses on reducing tobacco use among Grenadians.
The Grenada Heart Foundation (GHF) had its beginnings in 1984 when St. George’s University was approached for assistance in obtaining heart surgery for a young Grenadian child. The need for a dynamic program to diagnose and treat children and adults who have serious and potentially correctable congenital and acquired heart problems was evident. SGU and the Lions Club of St. George’s, Grenada, made the commitment to secure funding for treatment as well as long-term follow-up care.
Today, the Grenada Heart Foundation is administered by St. George’s University and is generously supported by corporate entities, and civic and community organizations. All of its services are supported by donors including the SGU, Rotary International, American Airlines, Chain of Hope, World Pediatric Project, CHORES, and the hospitals at which the patients are treated. GHF patients all attest to the high level of commitment shown by the organization itself and participating hospitals in their care.