The story of how siblings Sarah Joy Nilo and Reynaldo Nilo traveled from their home in the Philippines to our Salam Center for Cardiac Surgery in Khartoum, Sudan so that Reynaldo could undergo vital heart surgery has received attention across the globe. News sources from The Guardian to Yahoo News all picked up this story of perseverance and compassion. Now that Reynaldo has left our Salam Center after recovering from a successful surgery, we can look back at the long journey that led up to this life-saving procedure.
Their full journey began over a year ago when Sarah saw the 2013 Oscar Nominated short documentary Open Heart, which tells the story of eight Rwandan children who travel to the Salam Center outside of Khartoum, Sudan to receive open-heart surgery. The children featured in the film suffered from rheumatic heart disease, which develops from untreated childhood strep throat and is the same disease that had weakened the heart valves of Sarah’s 17-year-old brother Reynaldo. Sarah saw a chance for Reynaldo to receive the cardiac surgery he needed, which, in the Philippines, was cost prohibitive and inaccessible through charitable avenues. She contacted Kief Davidson, director of the film, explaining her brother’s need and asking for help. Kief brought in producer Cori Stern, who put her in touch with EMERGENCY.
Reynaldo at a relative’s house in Manila before leaving for the Salam Center in Sudan (AFP Photo/Jay Directo)
Since Reynaldo was diagnosed with rheumatic heart disease, Sarah had done everything in her power to manage his symptoms and look for help. Without surgical intervention, however, most die from the disease at a young age. “We were always worried for him. I was scared he would succumb [to the disease], but I steeled myself, determined to show him that we were not giving up,” says Sarah. “I was desperate to get a job – any job, even as a domestic helper abroad – to pay for the surgery. But I realized it would take more than a lifetime to raise that amount.”
Upon hearing about Reynaldo’s situation, EMERGENCY agreed to fund the necessary heart valve replacement surgery at the Salam Center and pay for other medications that he needed for the rest of his life. Despite the guarantee of the surgery itself, it took considerable effort and time to arrange the trip to Sudan. Our colleagues at EMERGENCY Hong Kong helped the two secure their travel.
On June 8, 2015, the siblings left from Manila to travel to Khartoum. Before leaving, they spoke with AFP about their apprehension, hopes, and gratitude surrounding the trip and the procedure. The two were traveling over 5,000 miles for a surgery that, due to the nature of the procedure and Renaldo’s condition, comes with some risk.
Sarah and Reynaldo arrived at the Salam Center that week in June and Reynaldo underwent open-heart surgery to replace his heart valves on June 16. The surgery was a success, and after a few days recovering in the ICU, Sarah was reunited with her brother.
Reynaldo spent another month recovering at our state of the art Salam Center, which is designed to be place of serenity, complete with gardens and a multi-denominational meditation hall. Sarah, his constant advocate through it all, supported him along with our dedicated local and international staff. The pair spoke with AFP during the recovery: “I am feeling better, not like before. I feel stronger,” Reynaldo says. “I’m just very happy because I have a second chance in life.”
On July 19, Reynaldo was discharged from the hospital fully recovered with a healthy heart. Sarah sent word to EMERGENCY Hong Kong: “Finally after 1 month and 4 days my brother is now out of the hospital! Thank you to all doctors and nurses who took care of my brother very well and to all the staff of EMERGENCY! Thank you very much, thank you for my brother’s 2nd life.. may God bless you more.
Reynaldo, our family and me are very happy”
Thanks to Sarah’s persistence and advocacy, Reynaldo was able to get the surgery he needed free of charge at our Salam Center for Cardiac Surgery in Sudan. He returns home with a healthy heart, access to any followup medications needed, and a second chance at a healthy life.
High standard, free-of-charge surgical care makes the difference not only for the patients whose lives are saved, but also and in the lives of those who cherish them.
To help more kids like Reynaldo receive the life-saving cardiac surgery they need at our world class Salam Center for Cardiac Surgery