Several weeks ago, Amy Posey, a mother who lives in Germantown in North America, met Medena Murray, a mother who lives in Georgetown in South America.
Medena and her son, Kayden, nearly three years old, had traveled from their home in Guyana to a hospital in Memphis to have a hole in the child’s heart repaired by a surgeon who was born in Guyana.
Posey, who was born in 1975 with a hole in her heart, had volunteered to shepherd Kayden and Medena through the same sort of surgery she had undergone at the same hospital when she was almost 3.
“It can be scary, I know, for a child and a parent,” said Posey, a volunteer for Gift of Life Mid-South, which brings children from developing nations to Memphis for lifesaving heart surgery. “I just wanted to be there to reassure them that everything was going to be fine.”
It was. Dr. Umar Boston, surgical director of the world class pediatric heart program at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, patched the tiny congenital defects in Kayden’s tiny heart. Within days, Kayden was bouncing around the room. The family returned to Guyana late last month.
“He’s a new kid now,” said Boston. “He was scrawny for his age. He’s spent his life huffing and puffing instead of growing. You see him now, he’s out playing, filling out, starting to grow.”
One in every 100 or so babies in the world is born with a heart defect. Those who are born in the United States or other developed nations have their hearts repaired within the first six months, if not in utero.
Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, the big Downtown building with the big red heart on top, has performed thousands of heart procedures on children. That includes more than 50 heart transplants.
“It’s a very well-developed practice here,” said Boston. “We kind of take it for granted, but in developing countries, like Guyana, 90 percent or more of those children have no access to cardiac surgical care.”
Guyana is a nation not quite as large as Texas with a population slightly larger than Memphis. It’s the third smallest and second least populated country in South America. Forty percent of its residents live in poverty. It can’t afford a congenital heart disease program or pediatric critical care services.
Children born there with congenital heart defects often go undiagnosed or untreated. “They present much later, if they survive at all,” Boston said. “Kayden was lucky.”
Lucky because his mother, Medena, didn’t accept the inevitable. When she couldn’t find the help Kayden needed in Guayana, she turned to Google.
Her search led her to Dr. Boston and Le Bonheur. She sent him a Facebook message.
“I was happy to hear from her,” Boston said. “We are actually from the same region of Guyana.”
Boston connected her to Bill Pickens, founder of Gift of Life Mid-South, which brings Third World children to Memphis for lifesaving heart surgery. It’s sponsored by 41 local rotary clubs in Shelby County and North Mississippi.
Pickens connected Kayden and his mother to Posey. Her parents and Pickens recently became neighbors. When Pickens told them about Gift of Life, they told him about their daughter, the lifelong heart patient.
“Amy has come full circle, from patient to caregiver,” Pickens said.
Posey has undergone eight heart procedures since 1978.
Surgeons repaired holes in her heart in 1978 and 1994. They installed a stent in 2003 and a mechanical valve in 2011.
“I tick like a watch,” she said. “When my daughter was little and I’d hold her, she’d say, ‘Mama, can you turn the ticking down?’ At first it was annoying, but now it’s comforting. When I hear it I know my heart is OK.”
In 2013, Posey got a pacemaker. She’ll be getting a new one sometime this year. She’s also received several heart ablations to correct an arrythmia, and a filter to catch a blood clot. She takes 17 medications every day.
“It’s all I know,” Posey said. “When I was in the ICU with Kayden, and they started pulling the tubes out of his chest, they looked at me and said, ‘Can you handle this?’ I laughed. Then I showed them my ‘zipper’ and said, ‘I got this. If you don’t do it, I will.'”
Posey is one of about 30 volunteers who help Gift of Life patients, and their families feel more at home while they’re here.
They meet families at the airport, accompany them on clinic visits, take them on outings, spend time with them at Le Bonheur’s FedExFamilyHouse, and provide support while they are in the hospital.
More importantly, they guide them through the physical, emotional and spiritual stress that accompanies them as they trust their children’s lives to people they’ve never met in a place they’ve never been.
“So many people have taken care of me over my lifetime,” Posey said. “Doctors and nurses. My parents. My ex-husband. He’s been my rock. My daughter. She’s been my little nurse. I’m just thankful that I’m in a position to help someone else.”
Hope in Memphis is a recurring series about people who are working every day in Memphis to defy and defeat crime and violence, poverty and homelessness, child abuse and neglect, inequity, intolerance and ignorance.