Open Heart Review – Hope in the Dimmest of Places

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Open Heart,” from HBO Pictures and Producer Abigail Disney, follows eight children diagnosed with Rheumatic Heart Disease as they travel from remote Rwanda to the Sudan to receive high risk life saving medical treatment.

“Open Heart,” an Oscar nominated short from director Kief Davidson and Urban Landscapes Film, in association with Whitewater Films and Believe Media documentary, weaves the tale of two realities, that of the Rwanda’s 13million children diagnosed with Rheumatic Heart Disease, the limited medical treatment available and the miracle of life in the desert.

“Open Heart,” begins in Kigali, Rwanda, with Dr.  Emmanuel Rusingiza, a Pediatric Cardiologist at the University Teaching Hospital of Kigali, explaining his is one of two physicians and the only pediatric cardiologist working the public hospital and travels to the state-of-the-art Salam Center in the Sudan where we meet Dr. Gino Strada, the head surgeon of “Emergency” as the cardio unit is named.

A century ago Rheumatic Heart Disease was the number one killer of children in the United States; today, the infant/child mortality rate for an American child is at 0%. In Rwanda, approximately 13million children are presently affected and the infant/child mortality rate increases daily.

New cases are diagnosed annually and without Penicillin or any other antibiotics to the treat Strep Throat, which is the primary cause, the only hope for the children is heart surgery which is costly and unavailable in any hospital in the country.

There is only one hospital on the African continent that performs open heart surgeries and that is the Salam Center in the Sudan. “Open Heart,” documents eight of the most severe cases who will not survive without surgery and introduces a program that funds surgeries for these children.

We are given a glimpse into the lives of both patient and parent as Dr. Rusingiza explains the children are determined on a case by case basis; those in advanced stages are selected.

He also explains the child will travel alone to the hospital as there is only enough funding to support the children. If the child dies while in the Sudan, the parent is informed at intake, the child will be buried there. The child cannot return to his home country. Parents must agree to these terms in order for their child to receive the high risk medical procedure.

Many of the parents are not even sure where the Sudan is located, as they gather at the Airport, holding their children for what may very well be that last time. The children, range from a three year old to a nineteen year old, will be gone for at least two months, barring any complications, longer if additional medical care is necessary.

Dr. Gino explains throughout the film that Universal Health Care is a right and for children of Rwanda the level of that is an antibiotic if it is available.

Emergency, under Dr. Gino's leadership initially performed 1500 surgeries and as he describes, is now facing financial problems. The Salam Center is funded by Emergency’s private donors 75% and the government of Sudan 25%. Devaluation of Sudanese currency dramatically cut emergency’s budget.

The state of the art medical facility is located in the Sudan, Africa’s largest nation with nine neighboring countries which make it an ideal location to provide lifesaving medical treatment for as many as possible.

“Open Heart” documents the surgeries, with graphic images of a heart bypass, including exposing the enlarged and beating heart. The children all survive their surgeries with one complication. A tearful reunion at the Rwandan airport, six weeks later, for Marie and her father, who kisses the ground as his daughter walk through the gates.

“Open Heart” is a love story of life that blooms in the strangest of places.

“Open Heart” can be seen on HBO. Check your local listings.

 

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