Island Children Saved In Great Collaborative Effort

 

Once close to death, but with his little heart now repaired, little Marvin Naanai can now return to Christmas Island with his mother Teaekaki Tebebe, where he can look forward to a normal life.

Once close to death, but with his little heart now repaired, little Marvin Naanai can now return to Christmas Island with his mother Teaekaki Tebebe, where he can look forward to a normal life.

Little Marvin Naanai and Tabiria Nomeneta are alive, well and at home with their parents on far distant Christmas Island in the central Pacific following life-saving heart surgery in Dallas, Texas last month, thanks to the collaborative efforts of many kind, helpful volunteers.

The road to recovery for Marvin, 2, and Tabiria, 18 months old, began with a diagnosis on Christmas Island earlier this year by volunteer cardiologist Dr. Steven Compton of the Alaska Heart Institute in which he said each child was so sick they each required urgent heart surgery.

“We didn’t think little Marvin would live long enough to reach help in the United States,” said local medical officer in charge on Christmas Island , Dr. Teraira Bangao.

Stepping forward was a remarkable organization called HeartGift and their Dallas chapter’s president, Barbara Johnson.

“Barbara cleared the way for surgeries for both children at Dallas Children’s Medical Center and told us to bring them on,” said Carlton Smith, president of Pacific Islands Medical Aid, Inc. “The surgeons, nurses and everyone at Children’s Medical Center were great.”

With proper documentation, U.S. Visa waivers were issued on humanitarian grounds for the children and their care-taker mothers by the really helpful folks at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Smith said.

Costs of airfare from Christmas Island in the central Pacific to Honolulu and onward to Dallas and return was made available by Mending Kids International of Burbank, Calif., and American Airlines Miles for Kids, for which we are extremely grateful, Smith said.

Host mother for Marvin and her mother was Ms. Marietta Johnson, Barbara’s mother in law.

The United Methodist Church in Frisco, Texas, with the help of members Catherine Pat Fowler and host family Lara and Doug Edwards provided housing, meals, transportation and lots of love.

Translation services for both children’s mothers and their surgeons were provided by Anna and John Bryden, a wonderful I-Kiribati family from Christmas Island who happened to be on business in Honolulu at the time, and who were connected to the hospital in Dallas by cell phone.

The children and their mothers are back home now, following successful heart surgery with the prospects that each child will now have a normal, full life.

Island Doctor Offers Thanks …

Little Marvin's mother, father and big sister are eternally grateful for everyone involved in saving Marvin's life. Here, they pose just outside the Ronton Hospital on Christmas Island after returning home.

Little Marvin’s mother, father and big sister are eternally grateful for everyone involved in saving Marvin’s life. Here, they pose just outside the Ronton Hospital on Christmas Island after returning home.

Dr. Teraira Bangao, medical officer in charge for the Line Islands, sent a note once the children were returned home:

“The father of Marvin is very happy to see his boy returned back healthy. He is lost for words and asks me to convey his great appreciation to all who helped his son. He said Marvin and Mom puts on a lots of weight. Marvin is very healthy.

I thought initially that Marvin would not make it to the States. When his attacks would come, they were quite severe. I saw him last Friday and he is very healthy.

May I take this opportunity, on behalf of the Kiribati Ministry of Health, to thank everyone who has given a life-saving hand to this poor little boy.”

About Tabiria, Dr. Bangao writes that “I saw her the day after she arrived home. She is very healthy now. The heart sounds are perfect.

You are all wonderful guys. Bless you all,” he said.

PIMA Mounts Pediatric Surgery Expedition

A top-notch, all-volunteer pediatric surgery team from San Diego will be heading to Christmas Island in Kiribati in late January to perform more than a dozen urgent surgeries for children and adults at the small hospital there.

“We have been extremely fortunate to be able to put together this great team of surgeons to help out with some of the critical needs in Kiribati,” said Carlton Smith, president of Pacific Islands Medical Aid, Inc.

Heading the team will be pediatric surgeon Dr. Julia Grabowski, M.D., University of California at San Diego assistant professor of surgery and at Rady’s Children’s Hospital of San Diego, joined by Dr. Katherine Davenport, M.D. pediatric surgery fellow at Rady’s. Rounding out the team is pediatric anesthesiologist Dr. Krista Bockstahler, M.D., with the anesthesia service medical group at Rady’s.

Several important life-saving adult surgeries are also planned by the team during the week-long visit, Smith said. In addition, the Kiribati Ministry of Health is sending a young I-Kiribati surgeon from their capital in Tarawa to join the team for training purposes and who will work with the local Kiribati medical officer in charge, anesthesiologist Dr. Teraira Bangao and local surgeon Dr. Harry Tong.

In the recent past, PIMA upgraded the small operating room at the hospital with a new anesthesia machine and other improvements, Smith said, permitting more complicated surgeries to be performed. “Our goal now is to do as many surgeries as possible on the island, while helping teach and train Kiribati physicians and surgeons to carry on,” he said.

Dentist to Aid Islanders

Dentist Dr. Richard Usinger of Walnut Creek, California has volunteered to join our surgery expedition to Christmas Island in Kiribati in late January to help dental patients from all three Line Islands in that isolated part of the Pacific.

Dr. Usinger, a graduate of the University of Southern California School of Dentistry and investigation expert consultant for the Dental Board of California, will be taking donated dental supplies, examining and treating patients, and training dental assistants on the island during our week long stay.

This first visit by Dr. Usinger will hopefully set the stage for future visits aimed at improving dental services for Christmas Island (Kiritimati) and the nearby outer islands of Tabuaeran and Teraina, where no dental services are now available.

In addition, the Kiribati Ministry of Health will be sending a young dentist from their capital of Tarawa, more than 2,000 miles away, to work alongside Dr. Usinger for training purposes.

Please Help Save Robei’s Life; Just Airfare Needed

Surgeons and the hospital are lined up, but we need to raise funds for airfare to help save Robei's life. She will undergo open-heart surgery in the U.S. this month. Please help us get her there.

Surgeons and the hospital are lined up, but we need to raise funds for airfare to help save Robei’s life. She will undergo open-heart surgery in the U.S. this month. Please help us get her there.

When 25-year-old Robie Rutio was examined by our volunteer cardiologist on Christmas Island in Kiribati earlier this year, she was found to be suffering from heart valve damage, probably caused by untreated rheumatic fever when she was a child.

Robie lives with her husband and two young children in the village of Tabwakea on this remote island in the central Pacific … and without our help, her life would be cut short.

Dr. Steven Compton, chief of clinical cardiac electrophysiology at the Alaska Heart Institute in Anchorage, initially examined Robei and has arranged for life-saving surgery for her at Providence Alaska Medical Center later this month … but we need to pay for transportation from this remote island to Anchorage for Robei and her caretaker husband.

Please help us by donating to help save Robei’s life.

Fiji Airways round trip airfare for Robie and her husband from Christmas Island to Honolulu is $3,800, and Alaska Airlines airfare from Honolulu to Anchorage is $1,100, for a total of $4,900.

Dr. Compton says Robei’s heart can be repaired surgically, but must be done promptly. With proper documentation, U.S. Customs and Border protection has already approved visa waivers so that Robei can be saved, and Providence is donating all hospital and necessary emergency department services and will provide housing and meals.

Robei’s condition is described as severe mitral regurgitant murmur, and echo findings consistent with severe mitral regurgitation, moderate tricuspid regurgitation, and mild to moderate aortic insufficiency presumed to be caused by rheumatic fever. Dr. Compton says that without surgery, she will have irreversible damage from progressive left ventricular dysfunction.