- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 3, 2001

Three-year-old July Fassinou lay on an operating table at Childrens Hospital table for six hours. July had flown 5,400 miles from his home in Benin, West Africa, so doctors could perform the life-saving open-heart surgery to correct a degenerative condition called Tetralogy of Fallot.
Doctors in his country are ill-equipped and lack training to perform the operation, so July and two other baby boys were brought to the United States in April for the surgical procedures.
Constantine Megnahou, 11 months, and Israel Kiki, 2 years, were suffering from patent ductus arteriosus, a less-serious heart condition involving an opening in the passage between the aorta and pulmonary artery. Both Constantine and Israel underwent closed-heart surgery and returned to Benin last weekend.
"Surprisingly, they were up and running around playing only days after the surgery and I wondered if they were the same children," said Benin Ambassador Cyrille S. Oguin.
July was in the worst shape. His was "a condition where the blood flow from the heart to the lungs is limited," said cardiologist Dr. Craig Sable.
Because Julys condition made the operation difficult, Dr. Sable and another cardiologist, Frank Midgely took two hours to prepare the boy for the hours of surgery ahead.
"He was extremely weak because his lungs were so damaged from the lack of oxygen," Dr. Sable said.
Julys operation was a success, but he will be recuperating under observation for at least another week "until his lungs are adjusted to the increased flow of blood and oxygen," Dr. Sable said.
The children and their mothers were escorted to the United States on April 23 by Dr. Hippolyte Agboton, head of cardiology at the General Teaching Hospital in Benin.
"I was surprised at the short recovery time for Constantine and Israel. Its wonderful, and the mothers are very happy. Were all very happy," said Dr. Agboton, who also came to the United States to learn the surgical techniques necessary to save hundreds more Benin children with similar conditions.
Soon, Dr. Agboton will return to his former profession teaching. He will be responsible for helping teach Beninese physicians how to diagnose and repair heart abnormalities in children.
"Training our doctors is the most important thing right now," Dr. Agboton said.
But he faces another issue in Benin the lack of proper equipment to make the diagnoses and facilities in which to perform the operations.
"I convinced Agilent Technologies to donate an echocardiography a device used to diagnose heart conditions to Benin and they were trained to use it, but more steps are needed," Dr. Sable said.
Mr. Oguin said the government of Benin is committed to obtaining the training and facilities as soon as possible, but money is the major issue.
The opportunity for the three Beninese infants to come to the United States was made possible through an $80,000 donation from the Larry King Foundation and facilitated by the U.S. Agency for International Aid.
But much more is needed to make a real difference.
Childrens Hospital plans to bring 10 to 20 children from Benin to the United States each year for treatment and is setting up a Telemedicine link with that country. Telemedicine is a growing technology that allows doctors to diagnose patients without leaving their office, using a computer, broadband access and a specialized Internet camera.
"This would make the process a lot easier," Dr. Agboton said.


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