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Kenyan Man Helps Children with Heart Defects

Peter Kamau with a patient

Peter Kamau with a patient

Doctors estimate that more than 10,000 babies are born with a heart defect each year in Kenya. For most poor children and their families, life-saving operations are too expensive or unavailable. In this edition of VOA's "Making a Difference" series, we meet a man who helps poor children and their families to get the surgeries they need.

To Mater Hospital management, Kamau is the key to a viable, self-sufficient program for congenital heart defects.

Peter Kamau is executive chairman of Take Heart Association Project Kenya, which he formed in 1992.

The organization arranges for low-income Kenyan children and young adults to undergo heart surgery in Kenya, India, Italy and the United States.

"When the family has no hope, they have no faith that the child will be well, and when they see the child is recovering and becoming better, I feel very much happy," he said.

Kamau's passion for helping children with heart disease began 20 years ago, when his daughter Veronicah was diagnosed with rheumatic heart disease. Then a tour guide operator, Kamau was advised to take Veronicah to India for specialized treatment.

"When she came from theater, then to the ICU, then to the ward, we were chatting together, because I was happy and we were praying together with the other Indian community, and I felt great. I said, now we are going back home," he recalled.

But Veronicah died a few days later from a kidney infection.

Kamau's assistance to others who were in his situation began naturally.

Peter Kamau

Peter Kamau

"I knew a doctor in Kenyatta National Hospital," he added. "He was my good friend. He was the one who was calling me and telling me that, 'I have a patient and this patient would require surgery overseas. Can you come and talk to him?' So I used to go and meet with them and share with them."

Kamau eventually decided to help heart patients full-time. Four years ago, Kamau arranged for a team of doctors from the United States to come to Mater Hospital to perform surgeries on poor children. The team is in the process of helping the hospital to develop a self-sufficient congenital heart defects program.

Take Heart Association Project Kenya also gives out free heart medication to low-income patients. Those from out of town stay at Kamau's house while receiving treatment.

Since 1992, Take Heart Association Project Kenya has helped 86 children to receive life-saving surgeries.

For Peter Kamau, it is all in a day's work.