On a recent mission to Mon State, Burma Children Medical Fund staff were surprised to see an old patient, Saw Than Htet turn up with villagers to have their eyes tested. Now grown up, married with wife and family, Saw Than Htet, now 33, reflected back to when BCMF organized lifesaving heart surgery for him in 2014.
Saw Than Htet, health problems started when he was born with a congenital heart condition called atrial septal defect. He only learned of it by chance when at seven, he was admitted to hospital for dengue fever. The doctor told him his heart was not well and prescribed his heart medication, he took two pills a day until he stopped taking them at 17. Once he stopped taking his medication, he began experiencing chest pain, heart palpitations and difficulty breathing. Knowing he needed treatment, Saw Than Htet also knew his family couldn’t afford it.
Like many in rural Burma life was tough and his father, a farmer struggled to make a steady income from crops and rubber trees. Saw Than Htet, now 28, was struggling, he had difficulty breathing and he remembers his heart often skipped a beat. He sought treatment at a city hospital. After an echocardiogram, electrocardiogram and a blood and urine test, the doctor told Saw Than Htet he had a hole in his heart and needed surgery. “The doctor said he couldn’t do anything for me, and I would die if I didn’t get treatment.”
His family could not afford to pay his travel expenses to Yangon, let alone his treatment. “We had no money, I thought I would die, but I wanted to die at home,” Saw Than Htet said.
Saw Than Htet had almost given up hope when he learned about Mae Tao Clinic (MTC) based in the Thai border town of Mae Sot. A friend of his cousin contacted a medic at the clinic, who recommended Saw Than Htet go to MTC. In September 2014 Saw Than Htet traveled there hoping to be treated. MTC staff assessed him and referred him to BCMF.
Saw Than Htet said being referred to BCMF was life-changing, despite staff telling him his odds of surviving surgery were not great. “When I met BCMF, I felt lucky,” said Saw Than Htet. “Even though BCMF’s staff Ma Myai, told me that the surgery had a 50% success rate, I was fine with that.”
BCMF referred Saw Than Htet for surgery at Lampang Hospital in December 2014. The next few days were filled with testing, medication, and worry. Saw Than Htet was caught in a hard place and the immediate signs were not looking good.
“While I was admitted two other people with heart problems received surgery before me,” recounted Saw Than Htet. “Both of them died. I felt nervous and I didn’t know if I should go ahead with the surgery. I felt that if I got surgery, I would die, but if I didn’t receive surgery, I would also die.”
Saw Than Htet decided he had nothing to lose and agreed to go ahead with the surgery. On December 17, Saw Than Htet went into the operating theatre and had the hole in his heart closed. “When I first woke up [after surgery], I didn’t see a coconut tree outside the window [like at my house],” said Saw Than Htet. “I thought I was dreaming so I closed my eyes to fall back asleep.”
Saw Than Htet once he regained full consciousness, he felt very happy and called his family and friends to let them know his surgery had gone well. Once he was discharged, he spent another 15 days at BCMF’s patient house in Chiang Mai, before being transferred back to Mae Sot, where BCMF’s Thai office is located.
Today, five years later Saw Than Htet is doing well. He enjoys life with his wife and two sons and works in his brother-in-law’s shop selling gas and snacks. Saw Than Htet says he was always an active volunteer in his community, but since he received surgery, he is able to devote more time to do charity work. “I received the chance to live with my family and friends happily,” said Saw Than Htet. “I am very happy BCMF helped me because BCMF helped me remain alive.”
When BCMF met up with Saw Than Htet during its eye screening mission in Mon State, Burma, he had brought a group of people from surrounding villages to have their eyes screened for eyeglasses and common eye diseases such as cataracts and glaucoma. “I wanted to show people [from my area] the organisation that helped me and who also helps many other people,” Saw Than Htet said, before adding, “I feel indebted to BCMF for helping me, so I want to use my good fortune to help other people too.”
Saw Than Htet plans to continue his charity work and would like to see more health services reach his village. “I always pray to the Lord Buddha for my beneficiaries,” said Saw Than Htet. “I’m very happy to be able to see you [BCMF] and I wish you [the organisation] health and happiness!”