7-year-old Deborah Kisakye (center) of Kampala, Uganda with (from left) her interpreter Ruth, her mother Miriam, Dr. Steven Leonard of Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children and nurse practitioner Karen Hill.
by Chera Prideaux
Seven-year-old Deborah Kisakye is home now in Uganda.
She lives with her parents and three siblings in a small house with outdoor plumbing in a suburb outside of Kampala. They farm bananas and coffee beans and also keep bees.
Just three months ago, Deborah, who dreams of being a teacher when she grows up, was far from Uganda. She was in Denver receiving a life-saving procedure at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children (RMHC).
It’s the second time in young Deborah’s life that she has made the 8,000-mile trek to Denver for treatment. She was born with a congenital heart defect and in 2011, when Deborah was just a year old, an American team of doctors visiting Uganda was approached by her family asking for help. The team didn’t have the expertise Deborah required, so they contacted Dr. Steven Leonard, a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon at RMHC in Denver. The surgery was approved and a church in Texas sponsored her first trip, during which she received the necessary operation and was then able to return home.
In June of 2016, the Uganda Heart Institute did an evaluation of Deborah and discovered two obstructions had developed since the first surgery. These were unexpected since she had been asymptomatic for almost five years. The family, who remained in touch with Dr. Leonard, began to search for a way to get Deborah back to Denver.
Dr. Leonard approached the RMHC hospital administration for approval for the team to take on Deborah for the second operation.
“They did not hesitate to let us donate our services again. Everyone felt that, she’s our patient; we will take care of her,” said Dr. Leonard who was happy to be able to work with Deborah’s family for a second time.
Dr. Leonard praised Samaritan’s Purse for their help getting Deborah, her mother, and an interpreter to Denver. The organization also footed the bill for a nurse practitioner from RMHC to fly to Uganda and back with Deborah and her mother in case there were any complications during the trip.
“They are tremendous,” Dr. Leonard said.
Deborah arrived in Denver on October 21and ten days later, she received her operation. She remained in the hospital for a little over three weeks to be monitored.
During her two-month stay in Denver, Deborah and her mother stayed with a host family. They had to adapt to the cold and the traffic, but Deborah was delighted to see snow for the first time and even had a snowball fight with the nurses during her hospital stay. She and her mother were able to do some sight-seeing, including going to a school concert and the Denver Zoo. Deborah also became enamored with the host family’s dog, after the initial adjustment – she wasn’t used to a seeing a pet dog residing inside the home.
Deborah, a happy outgoing girl, who loves to dance, recovered well from the surgery. Her mother called the operation “a real blessing” and she was thankful to be able to receive the expert care. The medical team said Deborah’s prognosis is good and she will continue to be monitored by the Uganda Heart Institute.
“We didn’t expect her to have to come back,” said Dr. Leonard, “But we were thrilled to be the ones to take care of her again.”
Chera Prideaux is a freelance writer who lives with her family in Castle Rock.