Baw (40) lives with her husband and youngest son in a refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border in Tak Province, Thailand. Originally from Bago Division, Burma, Baw works as a bookkeeper and treasurer at a community-based organisation in the camp. She earns 1,500 baht (approx. 50 USD) a month for her work. Her husband works as a security guard at the same organisation and earns 1,300 baht (39 USD) a month. Her youngest son studies in the camp, while her two other children study outside of the camp. Her family’s income is not enough to cover their daily expenses. To get by, her family relies on the camp’s rations or borrows money from friends and neighbours.
Baw first learned about her heart condition 12 years ago after she gave birth to her youngest son. The doctor at the time told her she could no longer have children due to her weak heart and she would need to have surgery to fix it. The doctor did not provide her with further details about her heart condition.
Until 2016, Baw did not experience any symptoms relating to her heart problem. In May 2016 she started to feel tired after doing strenuous activities. She gradually lost her appetite, had difficulty sleeping and lost weight. Eventually, she went to the camp’s clinic run by International Rescue Committee (IRC). Since the clinic is not equipped to investigate or treat serious conditions, a medic listened to her heart with a stethoscope, gave her an injection and sent her home.
In June 2016, an organisation was searching for cardiac patients to treat in the camp. Baw went to the patient screening site but was later told that the organisation only accepts children.
A year later, the same organisation returned to the camp. This time she was selected to receive treatment at Mae Sot Hospital, where she was diagnosed with multiple heart conditions – atrial septal defect, a hole in her heart, as well as tricuspid valve regurgitation and mitral valve regurgitation, conditions affecting two valves in her heart. She needed heart surgery, and so she was referred to Burma Children Medical Fund (BCMF) for assistance accessing treatment.
BCMF referred Baw to Lampang Hospital in northern Thailand. She was admitted on 25th of October 2017 and received surgery to repair both valves in her heart as well as to close the hold in her heart on 3rd of November 2017. She was discharged five days after surgery. Baw was readmitted on the 17th of November 2017 when she underwent a second surgery to drain excess fluid from between her heart and the sac surrounding her heart. She was discharged on the 27th of November 2017.
ROAD to RECOVERY
Since her surgery, Baw said she no longer has heart palpitations. She is less tired, and her appetite has returned. She sleeps better and she can walk longer distances without tiring. Baw said, “When my family heard about my successful treatment, they couldn’t wait to see me. This treatment brings hope to my family, especially my children. I used to worry that if I couldn’t receive treatment, I would die. Then my children wouldn’t be able to go to school because nobody would be able to pay for their school fees. Now, I’ll be able to return home, find work and support my children’s education. I would like to say thank you so much to the donors and BCMF for making this treatment happen. Without help from donors and BCMF, I would have been unable to live [much longer].”