Of all children born, an approximate 0,8 per cent is born with a heart disease, says Dr Sharabaan Abdullah, pediatric cardiologist at Latifah Hospital.
However, often these families cannot afford the costs of medical treatment, which forces them to look abroad.
"Some people have to go back to their home country, while in some countries the treatment is not even available," saysDr Abdullah.
To alleviate the stress of these families, Dubai Health Authority (DHA) and the Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Humanitarian and Charity Establishment has established the program 'Nabadat', which means 'heartbeat'.
Essa Al Maidoor, director-general of the Dubai Health Authority, said: “This humanitarian initiative is in line with the vision of our leader His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice- President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
“This philanthropic initiative is to support children with congenital heart diseases whose families cannot afford to pay for their treatment. The primary aim of the programme is to provide free medical assistance, surgery and post-surgical care for these children.”
The three-year-old British Portuguese James Edward was one of the heart patients selected by the most recent workshop, which took place between January 25 and February 1.
He had a hole in his heart, and two of his arteries were positioned on the wrong side of his heart. But the operation was a 100 per cent success.
"This operation would have cost us Dh360,000. If it was not for the initiative, I would have gone to the UK for the operation. And as the patient cannot fly for 3 months after the operation, our overall stay would have taken half a year, while our other children have to go to school here.
“It would have been a long time away from the rest of the family," says Maria Edward, the relived mother of James.
"It is not only the expense that is a worry for any parent putting their child through surgery, it is also the concern that the child should be in the right hands and that the physician should be experienced. Therefore, we were relieved when James was selected for the workshop because the team has done several surgeries like this one and even more complicated ones.”
This is the 11th such workshop for free heart surgeries that has taken place since the inception of this humanitarian programme in 2007. So far, more than 300 children, aged newborns to 19 years old have benefitted from the programme.
"You cannot imagine how happy parents are when they hear that the surgery we recommend is for free, because it is part of a charity initiative. This initiative is very good for the patient, parents, and for us as doctors," says Dr Abdullah.
For James live will go on as it should for a three-year-old. "We are keeping him home until he goes to school next year, but he is already feeling better. He is aware of everything; he is a very intelligent boy. We told him why he was feeling tired and why he had limitations, and that he needed an operation. Now we are just waiting for the cake, and then we will go home," says Maria.
The next such workshop will take place in June this year and preparations are in full swing to accommodate the most critical patients. Patients are prioritised according to medical conditions.