Dubai Watching seven-month-old Ahmad being opened up for a life-saving heart surgery at the Dubai Hospital on Wednesday morning should have been unnerving, but the nine men and women in green attending to him were most reassuring.
"That's the hole we just closed," said Dr Alessandro Frigiola, a visiting cardiac surgeon from Milan, pointing to the space between the two bottom chambers of Ahmad's heart on an echo-cardiogram monitor behind the operation table.
Over the past three hours, the tiny heart of the Iranian infant has had three other corrections as he was diagnosed with tetralogy of Fallot, a congenital heart disease with four abnormalities.
But as his father Pero Bhooshi, anxiously waiting outside with his wife and Ahmad's twin, said, "My son is in goods hands."
Bhooshi's faith is not misplaced. The Italian doctors from San Donato, Milan, along with five consultant doctors from Dubai have evaluated 34 other kids with similar congenital heart conditions since February 18.
The kids are all aged between a few months and 19 months and are not just Emiratis but also belong to expatriate communities.
And the surgeries — some of whose costs could otherwise go up to around Dh300,000 — are being conducted free of charge.
While 12 children are undergoing open heart surgeries, 10 others will have catherisation procedures. They are part of charitable initiative Save Little Hearts by the Dubai Health Authority and Shaikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Humanitarian and Charity Establishment. In its 10th round now, the initiative has benefited 260 children since its launch in 2007.
Open to all
Dr Obaid Al Jasem, Head of Cardiology at Dubai Hospital, said, "The initiative is open to all and seeks to ease the economic and social burden on families with children who have congenital heart disease. The DHA covers the cost of Emirati patients while the Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Humanitarian and Charity Establishment pays for expatriate children."
He said children covered are not just from the UAE but also from countries like Oman, Iran, Syria, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India.
While some families directly approach Dubai Hospital, others are referred by other hospitals.
Beneficiaries of the initiative are grateful. Ajman-based Arif Al Zaadi said his four-month-old daughter Fatma was operated on Tuesday to close two holes in her heart. "It was all so smooth. Our doctor at Latifa Hospital referred us here. On Saturday, they decided to operate. By Tuesday, it was done."
Bangladeshi national Hatija Mohammad Esmail, whose seven-month-old daughter Eman was to be operated upon later on Wednesday, said, "I am anxious, but I am very grateful for this opportunity that we have got."
Dr Shahrban Abdullah Abdul Rahman, Consultant Paediatric Cardiologist from Latifa Hospital, said, "The number of babies with congenital heart disease in the UAE is on a par with worldwide figures — eight per 1,000 deliveries."