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Life-saving medical support for an SOS child in The Gambia

SOS child, Bakary, underwent life-saving open heart surgery in France thanks to support from SOS Children and other organisations
SOS child, Bakary, underwent life-saving open heart surgery in France thanks to support from SOS Children and other organisations

Bakary, now five years old, was admitted into an SOS family in Bakoteh, The Gambia in 2012. He suffered from a rare heart disease that reduces oxygen in the blood. As a result of his medical condition, the fragile child could not walk or play with other children. SOS Children flew him to France for a life-saving operation that could not be done in his region.

When Bakary was just a toddler his mother abandoned him at a shelter managed by the country’s Department of Social Welfare. His SOS mother, Ya Therese, explains that on the day Bakary joined her SOS family at the Bakoteh Village, he looked very unwell.

“I asked what was wrong and the social worker said that he may be developing asthma,” says Mama Therese. The following day, Bakary was taken to the SOS Mother and Child Clinic, where doctors examined the child and prescribed an antibiotic.

A boy from the Bakoteh Village in The Gambia smiles to the camera after he had open heart surgery in France
“When he played with his friends, he would have to lay down,” explains his SOS mother

At last, a diagnosis

“At night, Bakary could not sleep. He was breathing abnormally. When he played with his friends, he would have to lay down,” explains his SOS mother.

Bakary was only two years old at the time. He could not walk on his own without gasping desperately for air. Mama Therese constantly brought him to the hospital and explains that she suspected a cardiac problem. After a series of checkups and tests, Bakary underwent an echocardiography – a painless test that uses sound waves to take pictures of the heart. With the medical report from the echocardiography, the doctors confirmed that Bakary was suffering from a cardiac condition known as Tetralogy of Fallot.

“I could not sleep without worrying that he might not survive the night. I slept with him on my bed. I was afraid. Even when I carried him, he would say ‘mummy put me down, I’m tired’. I would put him down but he could not sit up because he was not be able to breathe properly,” recalls his SOS mother.

The fight for a child's life 

Bakary was taken to another hospital to meet doctors who flew in from France. Bakary’s SOS mother was accompanied by an SOS nurse and the National Director of SOS Children’s Villages The Gambia, Oumou Tall. Mama Therese explains that the doctors informed her that Bakary’s condition was becoming worse and he needed to come to France for open heart surgery. “In my mind, my son was going to die,” she states as tear run down her left cheek.

A France based humanitarian organisation called Mecenat Chirurgie Cardiaque Enfant du Monde, agreed to operate on Bakary free of charge. However, due to child protection laws in The Gambia which do not allow children to travel abroad who are unaccompanied by a parent, Bakary could not go for his surgery.

An SOS child and his SOS mother at the SOS Children's Village in Bakoteh, The Gambia, walking outside.
Bakary and his SOS mother walking to school after his successful operation earlier this year

For two years, SOS Children negotiated with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare to approve Bakary’s travel. In the meantime, SOS Children also opened discussions with Mecenat, and the organisation allowed SOS Children to accompany the child. The Hermann Gmeiner Fonds Deutschland covered all of the travel expenses for Bakary to have his surgery in France, including the travel cost of Oumou Tall who accompanied the child.

A successful surgery

In February 2015, Bakary was flown to France and underwent his first surgery. On 13 April, he underwent the last surgery to successfully cure his Tetralogy of Fallot.

When he returned to his SOS family in Bakoteh, he was given a magnificent welcome. All of the SOS children, SOS mothers, SOS coworkers including the cleaners and security guards gathered to welcome him.

Bakary is now a very active and playful boy who runs around with his friends. “Since he has been back, he will not siesta. When I ask him to rest he says ‘no I want to play’,” explains Mama Therese.

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