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Heart specialist, cardiologist Dr. James Huhta, opens doors for children with heart problems in Belize!

Speaking with the good doctor, he explains that his visit to Belize is in response to an invitation from the Belize Rotary International & Local Chapter through the Gift of Life Program for the care of children with heart defects.

?We have had the opportunity over the last eight years to examine a number of children and many have gone out for surgery to the United States?, said Dr. James.

Accompanying Dr. Huhta on his four-day visit to Belize is his assistant, 32-year-old Deborah Kiwuola, cardiography, who does all his ultrasounds and echo testing, as part of evaluating the children he will be monitoring in Belize.

His four-day Cardiology Clinic, facilitated through the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital, runs until Saturday, September 4, from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. each day. A child can only be seen if he/she has been forwarded after being diagnosed by his or her pediatrician.

Presently, said Dr. Huhta, the most common heart problems they have diagnosed in children is that they are born with congenital malformation, for example, a hole in the heart, or a missing valve, or a problem with the pumping of the heart. These problems affect about one percent of all children born with some type of congenital defect.

The equipment that the doctor and his assistant use to help alleviate these problems is an echocardiogram, which costs about $50,000.

This machine is similar to an ultrasound, and with the incorporation of an echo machine, they are able to see pictures of the heart, look at blood flow and velocity to the heart, and can actually see where the flow is abnormal, for example, in a hole in the heart or in a narrow valve.

Parents can help with the survival and health of their child in fighting against heart diseases through early detection, even though the condition may be heredity. Parents should take their children to a pediatrician or a general doctor for evaluation, as the detection period does play a vital role in survival.

Key things to note for parents, says the doctor, so they can tell if their child has symptoms of heart problems, is if the child has a fainting spell, as opposed to ?passing out.? The concern is to determine if fainting was caused due to the brain, or due to the heart. If the child were turning very blue, for example, then that would be a sign.

But most other signs would not be seen by the parent/mother. For example, says Dr. Huhta, in the case of a young baby who does not gain weight normally, it is a very important reason for the parents to go to their pediatrician and try to find out why.

And while most people don?t associate heart problems with children, due to its prevalence among infants and children, about half of them will need surgery in the first year. His job now is to try and fix serious heart disease in the first year of life because there is a better chance that in the long run, we can have healthier children in older ages, concluded Dr. Huhta.

Director Yvette Burke, Director of Gift For Life, through Belize Rotary International, explained to us how Dr. Huhta is supporting the Gift for Life Program, which is one of the Rotary Club of Belize?s major projects, which includes crime stoppers and scholarship programs among others.

Gift For Life has been in existence for more than 20 years, and it is one of their biggest fundraising purposes.

The first step for Rotary International, says Burke, is to establish contact with the KHMH. Then they would establish communications with doctors and pediatricians throughout Belize. Once a child has been properly diagnosed, that is when Dr. James steps in and the children?s doctors are informed of the situation with respect to a child that they may have in their care.

Through their international connections, information is forwarded to the doctors abroad after they have concluded their clinics here in Belize.

Travel coverage is provided by Rotary International, says Burke, approximately $3,000.00 for a child who needs to be sent abroad for surgery.

They would submit information on that child to about six or so hospitals, and after acceptance, they would then assist the family with traveling and accommodation; the family normally would be hosted abroad by Rotary International families.

In conclusion, Burke feels that the program is helping many children to be able to live a longer and normal life.

Anyone wishing to help the Gift For Life Program is asked to show their support by participating in this year?s pirate night fundraising event scheduled for September 9, at the Old Belize Museum, formerly Cucumber Beach, located at Mile 5 on the Western Highway.

Tickets are available at $65.00 each from any Rotarian member, LOVE FM and Mala?s Store.

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