Yan Naing (heart disease)

Yan Naing is 17 years old. Although his parents want nothing more than for all their 5 children to be educated, Yan Naing dropped out of school this year because he could no longer cope with the walk to school. Yan Naing has cardiac disease which causes him severe shortness of breath on exertion.

Like his 4 younger siblings, Yan Naing was born in a hospital in the capital of Mon State, Burma. When Yan Naing was 2 months old he experienced acute diarrhoea and his mother took him to see a doctor. The doctor told her that Yan Naing had a congenital heart condition and they would need to save for corrective surgery.

As the sole income earner, Yan Naing’s father works as a labourer making wooden furniture. He earns 5000 Kyat (US$5) a day. In dry season this is 5-6 days per week but in wet season it is only 3-4 days per week. There is not sufficient money coming in to meet all the family’s needs. Therefore extended family members, who are working on the Thai-Burma border in Mae Sot and Myawaddy, sponsor the children’s education.

Yan Naing does not remember a time in his life when he did not feel tired. Even as a young child he recalls that he experienced shortness of breath when playing. By the age of 15 his symptoms deteriorated to include difficulty in breathing, palpitations and chest pain. This commenced a period of great financial outlay by his family to treat Yan Naing’s symptoms. The family was forced to sell their assets including the land they had inherited.

The outpatient doctor consultations, treatment and medications were costing the family 50,000 Kyat (US$50) per month. As Yan Naing’s heart is failing it is no longer working as an effective pump (congestive cardiac failure) this is causing his blood to become sluggish and thick requiring multiple blood-thinning medications to prevent clotting. The Burmese hospital also performed regular venesection (blood letting) to reduce the volume of fluid needing to be pumped by his overloaded heart. This obsolete technique for cardiac patients is not seen in developed world hospitals.

On 26 May 2011, Yan Naing required hospitalisation after experiencing seizures. Seizures are a complication of advanced cardiac failure seen in the condition called Tetralogy of Fallot. The seizures are caused when there is not enough oxygen circulating in the blood to reach the brain. His 8-day inpatient stay cost 550,000Kyat (US$550).

Yan Naing’s family knew that he was in desperate need of life-saving corrective surgery that they could not afford. His grandmother knew of a family whose child had received cardiac treatment through Burma Children Medical Fund (BCMF) and convinced Yan Naing’s parents that they should take him over the border to the Mae Tao Clinic (MTC). Through family members 40,000 Kyat (US$40) was raised for Yan Naing and his mother to undertake the journey across the border into Thailand.

Yan Naing’s health problem has caused major financial stress for the family. His mother’s greatest hope is that he will get better. Yan Naing is very shy and softly spoken. He is acutely aware of the great difficulty that his family faces in trying to fund his care. This leads Yan Naing to explain that his only hope for the future is to one day pay back his family.