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Taking Care

The Awesome Power of a Healthy Heart Valve

St. Vincent & the Grenadines
6 Minute Read
Delano does two things a lot: he moves and he smiles. A wide grin rarely leaves his face, and his eyes have that twinkling aspect of someone who’s ready to try your patience and make you laugh at the same time. The 20-year-old doesn’t like to linger much on the fact that he was born with a congenital heart defect—mostly, Delano wants to talk about how he feels awesome.

“Like...” he brings his fists up to his chest with his elbows out and repeats himself for effect. “Awesome."

A visit to Delano’s home in April of 2017 is a visit to the home of a healthy, strong young man who makes jokes to his family, rarely stops moving, and charms everyone around him. 

With the exception of the charm, this is a different young man than the teenager from St. Vincent who first appeared on World Pediatric Project’s radar in 2012. A section of his aortic valve had developed to be too narrow. The congenital heart defect grew more pronounced as Delano grew older, and by 2016, Dr. Bill Moskowitz and the rest of the visiting World Pediatric Project cardiology team found he was in dire need of an operation. With high blood pressure and low energy, the then-19-year-old was clearly unwell, and the team decided his heart couldn’t wait much longer for a corrective procedure.

A few months later, Delano and his mother, Deborah, were en route to Richmond, Virginia for an aortic valve replacement at VCU Health.

Post valve-replacement awesomeness

Six months later, Delano is back to his old self, complete with that magnetic smile. 

Family life is just about normal again, after rounds of blood tests that have decreased from twice weekly to once monthly. His diet has to be carefully managed—no greens, which would affect lab results—and the medications and follow-ups have become routine. 

Delano doesn’t find it too difficult to adjust to these restrictions. After all, feeling awesome is a huge payoff.

It’s a typically hot spring day during St. Vincent’s dry season, and his young nieces and nephews are out of school for their Easter break. His small house, situated on the face of a hill with a steep stone staircase leading to his nearest neighbor above, is close inside and dim, with the open windows typical of the Caribbean. Breezes flow through the room and ruffle the petals of the hundreds of fabric flowers Deborah has hung on the walls and positioned on the tables. Like the flowers, Delano is as unable to stay still—the heat is rising as the morning goes on, and he’s itching to get to the beach.
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Before his surgery, Delano’s ability to do the things he wanted to do (and he wants to do all things) had weakened dramatically. His experience with World Pediatric Project allowed him to accept the present and focus on the future. 

That focus allowed Delano to avoid lingering on the risks or worrying about recovery time. Even traveling a thousand miles to Richmond—his first time in the U.S.—for his surgery didn’t faze him. He may have been a little sad to leave home, he admits, but after his recovery, he was just as sad to leave Virginia. The people he met, the new things he got to see, and the food he loved, they’re all still fresh in his memory, and he’d like to experience it all again soon.

Deborah has a demeanor that’s more serious than her son’s, but she’s probably shouldered more of the worry that’s surrounded his whole life. “He was always fun growing up, always active, always smiling,” she remembers. “An adult might moan and complain when they’re sick, but Delano doesn’t.”
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Both mother and son reminisce easily about the respect and assistance they received from World Pediatric Project doctors and volunteers. “They treated me like a king,” grins Delano, and his mother agrees. The hospital, she explains, provided her with everything she needed of the tangible and intangible variety. They made her feel confident, soothed her fears, and reminded her that her youngest child would be able to go back to that energetic, mischievous young man she missed having around.

When he arrived home, Delano wanted to plunge back into life, feet-first. He was already feeling so much better, and, on St. Vincent, the rustling palms and glistening sea practically demand that you join them outdoors. Deborah has made it a constant refrain to remind her child to take it easy now and then. Now that Delano has felt the effects of quality medical care, his mother and his pediatrician, Dr. Datta, both admit that he submits more willingly to doctor’s orders, even calling the doctor to double-check if he can eat a certain kind of food.
After a half hour of chatting, the kids can no longer be kept from the morning sun. Delano and his entourage spill out on the road that leads downward to the black-sand beach in a cove surrounded by jutting rock faces. We’ve picked up a number of neighbor kids as well, and they lead us past small houses set against grassy hills, often with a goat or two chewing in an unsurprised way. The beach is shady under some of the bigger trees, and that’s where you can find the adults, playing reggae from a stereo. Meanwhile, the younger children splash out into the calm surf, unworried about getting their clothes wet. They’ll dry quickly in this heat, after all. Delano’s niece starts a “snowball fight” with a neighbor girl and boy, and thick clumps of the muddy dark sand fly until the children decide to rinse off in the water. 

Each child is practically glowing with delighted energy as they whirl around Delano. His nephew shouts for everyone to watch as he jumps off a high rock face into the water.  A year ago, this scene would have been one Delano would have just watched from the beach. But now, he strikes out directly past the surf, parting the cool water with even, effortless, awesome strokes.
We can’t know Delano’s future, but we know now that he’ll have one. For every child that World Pediatric Project is able to help, that’s one more future adult with something to contribute to their community, their country, and the world.