- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2001

Three children suffering from degenerative heart conditions were flown some 6,500 miles from Benin in West Africa to the U.S. capital, where they will have corrective heart surgery at Childrens National Medical Center.
The children, who arrived at Dulles International Airport in Vienna, Va., about 1:45 p.m. yesterday, were accompanied by their mothers and a cardiologist, Dr. Hippolyte Agboton.
Dr. Agboton, head of the cardiology department at the General Teaching Hospital in Benin, will perform surgery on Constantine Megnahou, 11 months; Fassinou July, 3; and Kiki Israel, 2, and will be in Washington for the next two weeks learning new techniques.
The infant and two toddlers would have died in their childhood years without the aid of Childrens Hospital, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and private charitable donations, said Dr. Agboton. Thanks to a $200,000 grant from the Larry King Cardiac Foundation, Childrens will be able to care for them at no cost.
"This is a wonderful opportunity for the children to grow and live, after these surgeries are performed," Dr. Agboton said. "With the contract in place with Childrens, we will also improve training of cardiologists and surgeons in our country."
Benin, with a population of 6.1 million, was a major port during this countrys slave trade, and it is believed that countless black Americans have their ancestral roots there.
Dr. Craig Sable, a cardiologist at Childrens Hospital, and a group of physicians discovered what was ailing many Beninese children when they made a trip to Benin to evaluate the health care system in that country in December 1999. They made the trip at the invitation of Benins first lady.
"As a result of that trip, I convinced to send them an echocardiograph machine in the spring of 2000," Dr. Sable told The Washington Times.
He said he found many children born with degenerative heart conditions. They include everything from tetrology of fallot, a condition limiting blood flow from the heart to the lungs, to patent ductus arteriosus, a condition where the connection between the aorta and the pulmonary artery is open "basically a hole in the heart," Dr. Sable said.
USAID, a quasi-independent organization under the auspices of the State Department, was instrumental in fostering a relationship between the United States and Benin, and in facilitating arrangements for the Beninese mothers to accompany their children.
"We want to thank USAID and everyone for their hard work to get us here and we are so happy that this day has finally arrived," said Ouinsou Justine, mother of Constantine. Her comments were translated by Dr. Agboton.
"This is what USAID is here for working to improve the education and health sectors throughout Africa and in other nations," said Harry M. Lightfoot Sr., USAIDs Beninese mission director.
According to Mr. Lightfoot, Benins president, Mathieu Kerekou, actively sought U.S. aid in 1999 when he visited Childrens Hospital.
"We began looking for charitable organizations to help bring some Beninese children to the states to have these special surgeries, which are not available there," Mr. Lightfoot said.
Nearly 80 percent of money in aid from the United States to other countries "is spent right here, which contradicts the idea that aid to Africa is going down the drain," Mr. Lightfoot said.
"Through the emphasis of this administration to work with more faith-based organizations, we are hoping to be able to do a lot more in the future," said Mr. Lightfoot.
"In our country, health is a serious concern, as with any Third World nation, and we will take every opportunity given to us to further relationships to improve health and education," Beninese Ambassador Cyrille F. Oguin said.


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