“For most children, their world is home and school. My world is the hospital; I have congenital heart disease. People with this illness know how easily you get tired, but the person even more tired than me is my mom.
“For as long as I can remember I’ve been in and out of hospitals. My mom’s boss gets upset with her when she has to miss so many days of work to take me to medical appointments and treatments. When I was diagnosed with infective endocarditis, it took so much time to care for me she had to quit her job.
“We don’t have much money so how can we afford my treatment? But my mom never gives up; she fights to the bitter end so I must fight too, as much as my body can stand. The doctor said that if I didn’t get heart surgery, I’d probably only live for two more years. “But luckily, help came that saved me just in time. Now my heart is stronger, and so is my mom’s.”
This excerpt is from a short film, “Hua Jai Tong Soo (Against All Odds),” the true story of Sarayut Samrit, one of Rak Jai Thai’s (Healing Hearts) young patients with congenital heart disease. The program paid for his heart surgery, giving him a new life.
Each year, over 8,000 Thai children are diagnosed with congenital heart disease. Nearly half of them need surgery to prevent death or serious physical infirmity. Most come from impoverished families, facing years on waiting lists at public hospitals for the urgent surgical treatments they require.
To alleviate this suffering, Bumrungrad Hospital Foundation and Bumrungrad International Hospital created Rak Jai Thai in 2003 to provide free cardiac operations to underprivileged Thai children. Better Health talks with pediatric cardiologist Dr. Preecha Laohakunakorn, one of the doctors on the medical team who has performed heart operations on over 700 children over the past 13 years.
Better Health: How did Rak Jai Thai get started?
Dr. Preecha: Only a handful of hospitals are capable of performing the time-sensitive heart surgeries these young patients need. Because of long waiting lists and limited resources, many have to wait for years. By the time they get their turn, the heart defects may progress to cause irreversible damage to organ systems, especially the lungs, render them inoperable.
Prof. Dr. Boonchob Pongpanich, President of the Cardiac Children Foundation of Thailand under the Royal Patronage of H.R.H. Princess Galyani Vadhana Krom Luang Naradhiwas Rajanagarindra, rightly saw that our hospital had the resources to give assistance to the Foundation. Pediatric heart diseases require special surgical skills and rehabilitation protocols. Prof. Dr. Boonchob requested help from Bumrungrad’s management team, led by Prof. Dr. Sin Anuras, Medical Director, and Prof. Dr. Oradee Chandavasu, Head of the Children’s (Pediatrics) Center. They agreed to get involved, and that’s when Rak Jai Thai was born. We have worked with the Cardiac Children Foundation of Thailand ever since.
Better Health: How does Rak Jai Thai help theCardiac Children Foundation of Thailand?
Dr. Preecha: Apart from shortening operation wait times, the program is particularly useful to newborns that need urgent life-saving surgeries, which public hospitals are often unable to deliver. Public hospitals are always overwhelmed with a large number of cases. Often they are unable to take in an unplanned emergency case. Bumrungrad can perform these high-stakes operations immediately, which increases children’s chance of survival.
We’re delighted that several private hospitals contribute their services to the Cardiac Children Foundation of Thailand to help ensure that patients get their heart operations as soon as needed. Now, the number of children waiting for operations has plunged dramatically from tens of thousands to only a few thousand. Bumrungrad’s medical team, including Assoc. Prof. Dr. Samphant Ponvilawan, cardiothoracic surgeon; Asst. Prof. Dr. Thamabovorn Neti, anesthesiologist; and myself have performed over 700 Rak Jai Thai operations to date.
Better Health: How do you select children for the program?
Dr. Preecha: The Cardiac Children Foundation of Thailand receives a list of candidates along with contact information, and then sends prioritized cases to hospitals. In emergency cases such as a newborn that needs immediate surgery, the public admitting hospital may contact Bumrungrad directly. Our program coordinator, Ms. Amornrath Asavahem, will then coordinate with the Cardiac Children Foundation for procedural issues so that the case can be transferred to us as soon as possible.
Rak Jai Thai covers all expenses, not just the cost of treatment but also accommodation and a stipend for parents or guardians who take time off from work to care for their children. Even the most impoverished family receives Bumrungrad’s start-to-finish world-class cardiac surgery treatment.
Assoc. Prof. Dr. Samphant Ponvilawan
Better Health: How many children receive Rak Jai Thai-sponsored heart surgeries annually?
Dr. Preecha: The number ranges from 40 to 80 children, depending on demand and the types of cases. Complicated surgeries require as much as three million baht, but the average cost is approximately 650,000 baht.
Better Health: What are the most prevalent pediatric heart diseases you treat?
Dr. Preecha: We see a wide variety of heart defects, from a very simple case like a hole in the heart wall to a very complex one that involves multiple defects of various parts of the heart.
There are cases which are hard to treat, but if there’s even a slim chance of survival, we do our best no matter the challenge. We utilize all kinds of advanced technologies including the most extreme life support machine, ECMO, to ensure the best outcomes. These technologies are costly, but we provide the best treatment, regardless of cost. All children deserve equal access to the best treatment available.
Better Health: What does the future hold for Rak Jai Thai?
Dr. Preecha: Many underprivileged children still wait for their operations, but as long as the Cardiac Children Foundation of Thailand continues to support the program we will continue to provide treatment. Children are Thailand’s most valuable resource. Rak Jai Thai wants to give every child the opportunity to overcome health challenges and become contributing members of society. Their good health helps to ensure our country’s future success.
Life is the ultimate gift. Will you give new life to underprivileged children with your contribution to Rak Jai Thai? Make your check payable to Bumrungrad Hospital Foundation or donate by money transfer to Saving A/C No: 197-0-111157, Bangkok Bank PCL, Nana Nuea Branch. Fax transfer confirmation to 0 2667 2031. For more information, please call 0 2667 1398.