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Uganda teen to receive life-saving surgery at UNC Hospital

Patrick Kahuma, 18, of western Uganda, was diagnosed with a congenital heart condition in 2007. He will be undergoing surgery on Monday at UNC Children’s Hospital.

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — This month, Gift of Life International will fly 30 children and teens in need of medical treatment to hospitals in 13 countries. One of those patients, Patrick Kahuma, 18, of western Uganda, is being treated at UNC Children’s Hospital.

Kahuma, an orphan, was diagnosed with a congenital heart condition in 2007, according to local charity Embrace Uganda, which has helped donate money for Kahuma’s operation.

Kahuma grew up in the remote village of Kaihura which has no running water or electricity and below standard medical care.

UNC cardiologists and surgeons have been working for several years with DC Children’s Hospital to establish a pediatric heart program at the Mulago Hospital in Kampala, Uganda. Every fall, a team travels to Kampala to evaluate children and perform surgical procedures.

Doctors found Kahuma has two defects, pulmonary stenosis and an atrial septal defect.

Heart defects like Kahuma’s are typically corrected in the first year of life. Doctors say it’s remarkable he has survived this long without treatment.

The procedure Kahuma needs was deemed too dangerous to be performed in Uganda, so doctors started working to find a location to treat the teen. They eventually were accepted by UNC Health Care.

Pediatrician Dr. Dirk Hamp said has been working for two years to get Kahuma’s heart fixed.

“To be able to be part of something that makes this happen for a child who is in this situation is just a privilege,” Hamp said.

Hamp met Kahuma on a mission trip to Africa.

“We always think back on the 1,500 other kids that are still in the village that could also benefit from help, medical care, clean water and all of those other things that they just don’t have access to,” Hamp said.

Speaking through an interpreter, Kahuma said he is not nervous about the operation.

UNC is doing the procedure at a discounted rate. The rest of the bill will be covered by donations. Doctors plan to provide updates on the operation on Monday through UNC Health Care's Twitter account and the Twitter account for UNC's Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases.

Once his heart is healthy, Kahuma plans to return to school. He dropped out in the second grade because his heart couldn’t handle the two-mile walk to school.


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