The Edition brings readers a dose of positive news over a cup of tea shared with inspirational folk doing all sorts of positive work in the Maldives.
Sometimes, it is out of utterly gut-wrenching tragedies that the most genuine, wonderful initiatives are born.
Arguably the most heartfelt of non-government organizations in the Maldives, and dealing directly with matters of the heart, is Tiny Hearts of Maldives, known fondly as Tiny Hearts.
The story of Tiny Hearts begins ten years ago, following the loss of a tiny little soul whose precious little heart was deemed too fragile for this world.
Keyaan opened his eyes to the world in 2008, in the arms of proud parents Hishmath Faiz (Hishko) and Ali Muaz (Mua). Perfect to his mother and father in every way, a dream come true. Yet in the three days that followed, older and wiser ears prickled at his newborn cries, claiming that something just “wasn’t right”.
After multitudes of physically and mentally exhausting trials of tests and investigations, the little boy was diagnosed with Congenital Heart Disease (CHD). As treatment options for cardiac ailments were severely limited at the time, Keyaan was immediately flown to India where he underwent major heart surgery.
“At the time when our son Keyaan was born, we didn’t know anything about Congenital Heart Disease”, said Hishko, Co-Founder of Tiny Hearts and proud mother to Keyaan and Kaena.
Despite his initial recovery, Keyaan succumbed to his affliction on September 24, 2008, at just two and a half months old, full of life and promise.
“Our first parental experience made us determined to prevent other families from experiencing the kind of suffering that we went through”, said Mua, Co-Founder of Tiny Hearts and adoring father to Keyaan and Kaena.
Exactly a year after his passing, Hishmath and Muaz, together with friends and family, founded Tiny Hearts of Maldives, effectively turning a harrowing experience into a positive movement that would benefit numerous children and parents facing similar obstacles.
Formally launched on September 24 , 2009, the initiative began with only 12 children registered at the NGO. Since then, Tiny Hearts has grown to an astounding 535 members, with a total of 51 new registrations in 2018.
Mua describes the goal of the NGO as being aimed at saving as many children as possible, from suffering the sort of difficulties and complications their son faced.
In addition to guiding anxiety-stricken families through what is often a complicated, emotionally-taxing and overall difficult process, Tiny Hearts also provides advice as well as donating financial support via partner associations towards the little ones’ operations.
“Although it is not a guarantee of survival, easing the process, subsequently gives these children a much better chance of life”, said Mua.
Chairperson of Tiny Hearts and renowned gynaecologist Dr Mohamed Aseel Jaleel iterated the sentiment stating, “Although nurses, doctors and various healthcare administrations are actively involved in promoting the importance of health, an NGO like this can certainly help pave the way towards healthier lifestyles”.
“In fact, one of the programmes that we run focuses on pre-natal health. There are several lifestyle changes before and during a pregnancy that significantly lower the chance of a baby being born with congenital heart disease”.
Over the course of 2017, Tiny Hearts reached several milestones across each of its three programmes; Care For Tiny Hearts, Save A Tiny Heart and Healthy Heart Programme.
Care For Tiny Hearts is an annually held medical camp that facilitates free consultations with visiting paediatric cardiologists, echocardiography sessions, and fetal screenings for expectant mothers at high risk for having babies with CHD. The camp also helps organize children by emergent need, to better allocate funding and assistance, in addition to advising patients to seek treatment in a timely manner.
“This year marks the 10th since our third initiative, Care For Tiny Hearts Programme, first began. Last year we hosted our 10th camp, and children with congenital heart disease from islands across the Maldives were able to travel to Male and consult with doctors from India’s Amrita Hospital”, said Maaidhath Khaleel, a board member of Tiny Hearts.
“On average, during these Care For Tiny Hearts camps, we provide consultation to approximately 150 children and categorize them by those urgently requiring treatment abroad, those able to seek treatments after a six month period, and children able to wait a year before needing surgery.”
Which brings us to Save A Tiny Heart, the programme that provides logistical and financial support for CHD patients in need of care and treatment options, with a focus on prenatal care and assistance towards planned deliveries.
“This programme works to provide all support needed to stabilize the patient or ease the medical process, even when travel abroad is not involved”, explained Aminath Rishmy, Treasurer for Tiny Hearts.
Tiny Hearts provides financial aid to an average of 20 patients per year, in addition to logistical support to countless families in need.
“If the child needs to be taken abroad, we help facilitate all the travel arrangements as well, including paperwork and acquiring documents for travel, regardless of whether it is a working day or not”, added Maaidhath.
“It has also come to our attention that there is an increase in children requiring assistance from Save A Tiny Heart programme”.
The third, Healthy Heart Programme, is aimed at promoting the importance of maintaining healthy lifestyles and thereby a healthy heart, beginning at the earliest stage possible, throughout one's life.
“One of the things we thought of doing, in order to engage teachers in healthier practices, was to teach them basic exercise skills,” said Aminath Maeesha, Tiny Hearts board member.
“This is especially important because, particularly with younger children, physical education is conducted solely at the discretion of the teacher”.
In addition to raising awareness about exercise methods, Tiny Hearts has developed a ‘Healthy Heart Handbook’, which is a book, distributed to all participating schools, that illustrates various exercises for different purposes using detailed diagrams.
As the interview drew to a close, Vice Chairperson of Tiny Hearts Fathimath Limya expressed thanks on behalf of Tiny Hearts to the NGO’s beloved supporters stating, “All of the programmes run by Tiny Hearts Maldives are made possible because of the support we receive from various parties and we would like to extend our humble thanks to all of them.”
Noting that many people inquire about how to help those in need through Tiny Hearts, Limya added that it was easiest to do so through the donation page on the organization’s website www.TinyHeartsMaldives.org/donate, where visitors can choose their preferred means of assistance.
“We are also grateful for the acclaim we have received from doctors, as well as the strong relationships we have established with the government, the Ministry of Health, HPA, NSPA, Aasandha and so forth. Their assistance is vital for us to facilitate means for afflicted families to travel abroad and seek treatment”, asserted Dr. Aseel.
According to Dr. Aseel, the NGO attributes its lasting strength, and continued passion to its founders, as well as its volunteers, generous donor parties and the encouragement received from various health and government administration in Maldives and internationally as well.
The NGO was also elected a member of the Geneva-based World Heart Federation on September 17, 2017. The World Heart Federation is a global NGO committed to uniting its members in the fight against heart disease and stroke, with a focus on low-and-middle-income countries.
It is difficult not to notice the genuine emotion present in the eyes of both parents as they take us through their journey. Certainly, through their loss, Hishko and Mua have saved so many lives. Even more so, they seem to have inspired hundreds of others to follow in their noble lead.
We cannot help but feel certain that Keyaan is watching their immense contribution to his memory, to the lives of little ones across the country and towards healthy lives everywhere, with lots of pride in his tiny heart.