In a tiny room in the heart of beautiful Aswan in Upper Egypt, a smile returns to Salma’s face and the faces of her mother and family.
Born with a serious heart defect called ALCAPA (Anomalous left coronary artery from the pulmonary artery), which escalates relatively quickly to a serious condition if left untreated, Salma's future was shrouded in uncertainty and danger.
Her condition could have led to the heart muscle getting weakened, valve regurgitation occurring and possibly sudden death.
This was little Salma’s case, a child of only eight months old. But then the Magdi Yacoub's Heart Foundation (MYF) and its affiliated heart centre came into the picture.
The MYF was established in 2008, and in 2009, the foundation established the Aswan Heart Center (AHC), a non-profit, non-governmental organisation providing free world-class medical services to the less privileged in Egypt and throughout the region in the field of cardiovascular disease, in addition to conducting various training and research programs.
On 14 February, Egypt officially announced its first registered case of COVID-19, and since then it has joined the world in fighting the pandemic as medical entities struggle to deal with an unpredictable health crisis.
Despite the challenge imposed by the pandemic, the MYF accepted Salma's rare cardiovascular case, and invited her to the AHC where she immediately underwent surgery.
"We remain committed to accepting any critical or urgent cases that cannot wait until after the coronavirus crisis is over, but at the same time we are taking many measures and precautions to protect our patients and ourselves so we can continue treating more cases," Dr. Ahmed Afifi, Chief of Cardiac Surgery at the AHC, told Ahram Online.
Salma’s mother, Abeer, said that to ensure Salma’s safety, she was not able to see her daughter after the surgery as per the doctors’ recommendation. Although this saddened her, she was grateful for the heightened protective measures at the hospital and the staff’s commitment to this mission.
Officials at AHC told Ahram Online that the centre receives 30,000 outpatients annually and performs 4,000 cardiac procedures (including catheterisations and open-heart surgeries) per year.
They added that in order to increase capacity and help patients closer to the capital, construction has already begun on a new hospital in 6 October City that is set to accommodate three times as many patients as the one in Aswan.
"Under the current circumstances, we accept critical cases that need immediate surgical intervention. We will always accept cases that are in critical condition and need our help," they concluded.
Salma is only one example of the tough mission for hospitals, especially those that deal with critical, life-threatening diseases that cannot wait.