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Annual Gift of Life Program Kicks Off in Belize City

By Michelle Sutherland

The annual Rotary Club of Belize’s Gift of Life Programme is back, and this time it has partnered with the Lions Club of Belize to offer pediatric cardiology services for children, from birth to 18-years who are in need of medical assistance and do not have the finances to do so.

The program officially kicked off on Monday, April 26, and will be running for three days in Belize City before it makes its way down to the southern part of the country. Usually, the program would offer walk-in services but this time due to the pandemic they will only be attending to patients with appointments and who have been on the waiting list for over a year.

On Tuesday, Ariel Mitchell Chairperson, Gift of Life, Belize Rotary, told the Reporter, ”Right now they are examining new patients and are following up on the older ones. They are attending to patients with congenital heart diseases, holes in their hearts, deformed valves, extra blood vessels, etc. Unfortunately, some of these conditions cannot be fixed here and so these patients have to be referred for medical assistance out of the country. In some cases, some of these surgeries can actually be done right here in Belize. ”

On Monday Dr. Jeff Delaney, pediatric cardiologist, who is leading the medical team in Belize commented, “Well, most of what I have seen here today are treatable. I have seen a couple of kids that have more difficult conditions where the treatment may not be able to fix the problem but can hopefully make them more functional and happier as they go through life but not everything has a complete cure with surgery, some of it just has to be fixed to the best of its ability.”

In his background introduction of the project, Mitchell explained that it has been around for 25 years and that doctors would usually volunteer to travel down to Belize to assess children with heart conditions. Depending on the condition and the severity, of it and if the surgeries cannot be done in Belize they would arrange with hospitals in the US to do the surgery free of cost. The Rotary Club would then cover plane tickets and travel expenses for the child and one parent and if possible include some spending money. Rotarians and their families would then take care of the family whenever they are placed and would accommodate them in whatever way they can until the child is well enough to return home.

Mitchell said that due to the pandemic, travels bands, and health restrictions, the team of doctors has been unable to visit since last year, and as such, there has been some sort of backlog with patients who have signed up for the program. According to Mitchell since Monday about 25 patients were successful in seeking medical care and that he expects the same number for the remainder of the week. Some of the most common symptoms that children with heart disease would display are skin discoloration, fatigue and if they are unable to grow or gain weight.

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