Free heart surgeries save 50 children globally through Golden Heart initiative honouring Lulu’s Yusuffali’s 50 years in UAE

Gold heart initiative recipients
Some of the recipients of the Golden Heart initiative that helped 50 children from conflict zones and underprivileged backgrounds. The charity drive commemorates the 50 years of Indian business tycoon and philanthropist MA Yusuffali, chairman of Lulu Group International, in the UAE.
Image Credit: Supplied

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The philanthropic mission has announced its completion by offering free life-saving heart surgeries to children with complex congenital heart diseases, renewing hope for a brighter future for 50 families worldwide.

Launched by Dr Shamsheer Vayalil, founder and chairman of Burjeel Holdings, the initiative focused on children from conflict zones and underprivileged backgrounds, beyond cultural and geographical boundaries, to commemorate the 50 years of Indian business tycoon and philanthropist MA Yusuffali, chairman of Lulu Group International, in the UAE.

Married to Dr Shabeena Yusuffali, the eldest daughter of Yusuffali and the vice chairperson of VPS Healthcare, Dr Shamsheer had announced the initiative in honour of his father-in-law on the New Year’s Day, a day after the latter marked 50 years of arriving in the UAE.

Tackling challenges

Spearheaded by experts, the surgeries were performed at public and private hospitals in Tunisia, Egypt, and India, it was announced on Monday.

Children from conflict zones such as Senegal, Libya, and Tunisia, and underprivileged families from Egypt and India were the beneficiaries of the initiative that concluded within three months. In a video released by the organisers, parents were seen sharing their joy.

Navigating stringent travel restrictions posed challenges in bringing children from conflict zones to hospitals for their much-needed surgeries, the organisers said. Special travel permissions had to be obtained through various agencies to support these families. In India, the initiative collaborated with government departments to offer high-cost life-saving surgeries that are not covered under the existing schemes.

Renewing hope

Two-month-old Adam Hany in India (left) and 17-year-old Madona Edward in Egypt Golden Heart Initiative.
Two-month-old Adam Hany in India (left) and 17-year-old Madona Edward in Egypt were the youngest and oldest beneficiaries of the free heart surgeries under the Golden Heart Initiative.

Children aged two months and upwards with complex congenital heart diseases such as severe aortic stenosis, a condition where the aortic valve narrows disrupting the normal flow of blood; Tetralogy of Fallot, a condition that affects normal blood flow through the heart; and atrioventricular (AV) canal defect, a defect where a hole in the wall separates the heart’s chambers causing problems with the heart valves, were some of the initiative’s recipients.

Commenting on the project, Dr Tarig Ali Elhassan, a renowned cardiac surgeon who headed the medical assessment board of the initiative, said, “We feel proud to support these children in the time of their need with world-class treatment. After announcing the initiative, we received numerous requests from different parts of the world.

“We thoroughly reviewed each medical record and shortlisted the candidates based on the severity of their condition and the guidelines of the initiative. Later, we brought together global experts in the field to perform the surgeries. We also made arrangements to ease transportation challenges. Everything was done within three months, which we consider a great feat.”

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Eight-year-old Lyal after the successful completion of surgery for a hole in the heart wall at Lakeshore Hospital, Cochin, India

Grateful for Golden Heart

The Golden Heart Initiative turned out to be a unique opportunity for these children to achieve their dream of leading a fruitful life. Most of them were unable to undergo the surgery earlier due to several reasons such as high expense and lack of proper facilities.

The families of these children have said they are grateful and thanked the organisers of the initiative for the life-changing support.

For two-and-a-half years old Hamza Islam from Egypt, who has been suffering from valvular stenosis, Golden Heart came as a blessing. In terms of development, he was far behind children around his age and suffered breathing and eating difficulties as well.

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Hamza Islam after undergoing a life-changing surgery as part of the Golden Heart Initiative at a hospital in Cairo, Egypt. Hamza was treated after being diagnosed with valvular stenosis, a stiffening of heart valves that can narrow the size of the valve opening and restrict blood flow.

This was due to a major perforation between two ventricles, which ultimately resulted in the stretching of the left ventricle and caused major mitral valve regurgitation. Through a high-precision surgery, doctors successfully treated the perforation between the two ventricles and restored the mitral valve.

Eight-year-old Lyal from India had a Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD), a birth defect where there is a hole in the wall that separates two chambers of the heart, and VACTERL syndrome.

Besides, she had multiple problems like anal atresia and vertebral issues. Additionally, severe Pulmonary Artery Hypertension (PAH) posed a significant risk during her postoperative period. Lyal’s family had knocked on many doors for help until the Golden Heart Initiative provided them solace, her father said.

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The Golden Heart Initiative completed 50 free heart surgeries in three months.

Impact, awareness

Every year, over one million children are born with congenital heart disease globally. Only a tiny percentage of them receive treatment.

The Golden Heart Initiative also aims to create awareness about this. On the impact of the programme, Dr Shamsheer said: “It fills our heart to see these children taking baby steps into their healthier lives through the Golden Heart Initiative.”

“When we launched the initiative, it received a good response from all quarters. Executing this mission was not an easy task. With utmost devotion, our doctors and other staff worked towards the healing of these little ones. The initiative would not have succeeded without their hard work and the families that trusted us. We hope this tribute to Mr Yusuffali will inspire these little ones to dream big,” he added.

Following the announcement of the initiative, parents of children with congenital heart diseases were asked to share their medical details to a dedicated email address. The right candidates were selected after a thorough review by a team of experts, the organisers said.