Nomin traveled from her home in Mongolia to Minnesota to become the 1,000th child to receive surgery through Children’s Heart Project.
Nomin was supposed to leave for Minnesota in a little more than a week for surgery to repair her heart defect. But now it looked like maybe that wouldn’t happen anymore.Help Provide Heart Surgery For A ChildThe little girl was sick. Her father had to get her to the hospital, a few miles away from their ger on the top of a hill, without a vehicle. He bundled both of them as tightly as possible in warm coats and carried Nomin out into the frigid Mongolian day.
Tumurhkuu had to take his 4-year-old daughter down a long dirt road on the side of a mountain and through the city to reach the hospital. There was no other option.
She had been feverish for days. The doctor had said not to worry when her parents had first called. But when she was still sick several days later, he told them to take her to the hospital.Because of Nomin’s condition, even a cold could result in hospitalization. She has tetralogy of fallot, a heart defect that comprises four problems, including a hole in the heart. Nomin often turns blue because of a lack of oxygen and has to squat to properly breathe. There was no way she could walk to the hospital, so her father carried her.
By the time they reached the hospital, Nomin’s lips and fingers were blue. The doctor said she would need to be hospitalized. As she lay in bed by his side, Tumurhkuu wondered if his young daughter would be able to board her plane to have her heart fixed.
There was no hope without the trip to the U.S., and Nomin was running out of time.
“In the developed world, they get the surgery before age 1,” said Emily Arneson, program manager for Children’s Heart Project in Mongolia. “She’s 4.5 years old, and she hasn’t had the surgery yet. Over time, these children pass away because there’s decreased pulmonary blood flow, and they’re at risk for sudden death. Tetralogy of fallot is a very serious heart defect, and these children often don’t make it past their teen years because of the constant oxygen deprivation.”
A Disheartening Diagnosis
Tumurhkuu and Otgoo, Nomin’s parents, have three other children. When Nomin was born, she was special to her parents because, according to her father, she had been born in his old age.
But something was wrong. Nomin developed slowly. She couldn’t walk or talk until she was 2 years old, and even then, she couldn’t play like other children. She got sick often.“When my daughter gets [sick], she has shortness of breath, and she can’t walk,” Otgoo said. “Kids the same age as Nomin, they’re always running and playing, but my daughter can’t do that so she sits down all the time. Seeing that as a mother is so hard on me.”
Tumurhkuu works at a nearby market carrying items for other people. He barely makes enough to buy coal and wood to heat his home, a necessity when temperatures in winter can fall below -30 degrees. Often, the family didn’t have enough money left to buy food.
“Because of my daughter’s sickness, it’s really hard on us,” he said. “I earn so little and sometimes it can’t even buy our food. When she gets sick, it’s financially very hard on us.”
But eventually, they were able to scrap up enough money to travel to Ulaanbaatar with the hope that the big city would offer answers.It did provide answers, but no hope. A doctor diagnosed Nomin with a heart defect and told the family that no treatment was available in Mongolia.
Tumurkhuu was incredibly disheartened. He knew he would never be able to afford surgery in another country.
“It was really hard for me to hear that my daughter is going to live for a very short time,” he said.
However, the doctor knew of a potential solution. He pointed them to Children’s Heart Project, the Samaritan’s Purse ministry that brings boys and girls with heart defects to North America to receive the surgery they need.
The screening process revealed that Nomin was a good fit and her medical records were sent to partner hospitals for review. The family returned to their home in Darkhan City as they waited for an answer.
“There wasn’t any option for me, so only thing I could do was ask God to help,” Otgoo said.
Hope for a Future
The family had to accept that Nomin might die. The only hope they had was that Children’s Heart Project would call. And one day, it did. Nomin had been accepted for heart surgery in Minnesota. She would leave in less than six months.
“Receiving that phone call made me so happy,” Otgoo said. “First thing I did was that I told God thank you, and I praised Him. It made me so happy.”Meanwhile, Mongolia was facing another bitter winter. The price of coal and Nomin’s medication meant Tumurhkuu wouldn’t be able to provide food for his family. Otgoo had no choice but to take a job at a bakery.
“For Mongolians, wintertime is so hard because it gets so cold,” Otgoo said. “And in the wintertime, my husband’s work becomes less, so he couldn’t find enough money to purchase coal and wood to heat the ger, so I had to work.”
Nomin started preschool, but she was quickly pulled out when all her classmates started getting sick in hopes she wouldn’t be infected. It didn’t matter. She soon got a cold, and then a fever.
Tumurhkuu had to take her to the hospital. And now he anxiously waited to find out if she would be released in time. There were only three days until she was supposed to leave the country. Children’s Heart Project staff members were already in Darkhan City, ready to take her back to Ulaanbaatar.
Emily Arneson talked with the doctor at the hospital. He agreed to release Nomin the next morning if Children’s Heart Project staff members would bring her back to the hospital at 2 p.m. and again at 10 p.m. for two final antibiotic shots. She would then be allowed to travel to Ulaanbaatar.
Tumurhkuu took Nomin home to spend one last day with her before she left. The family ate buuz, a type of meat-filled dumplings, and spent time playing with her. She couldn’t do much because she was sick.
The next day, Nomin said goodbye to her father and siblings and left for Ulaanbaatar with her mother.On Friday, Nomin and Otgoo went to the airport with the two other children and mothers also going to the U.S. for surgery and their two interpreters. Tumurhkuu had decided to come to the airport for a final goodbye and had surprised her by bringing her oldest brother.
They hugged one last time, and Otgoo carried Nomin through security.
“It feels wonderful that these people are going to help my daughter, and my heart is so high because I am so happy,” Tumurkhuu said. “I am so grateful that my daughter is going to have treatment and is going to be healthy. [It] makes me feel encouraged and hopeful. My daughter means everything to me.”
Less than a week later, on Wednesday, March 5, Nomin went into surgery around 9:30 a.m. in Minnesota and became the 1,000th child to receive surgery through Children’s Heart Project. She is currently recovering in the home of the host family.
The operation was a success. When she returns to Mongolia, she will be able to play with her siblings and classmates. No longer will Tumurhkuu and Otgoo need to worry that a common cold could become fatal.
“She’s really special to us because she’s our 1,000th child, and so we’re really excited to celebrate her that she gets to have this surgery abroad,” Emily said. “It represents 1,000 children and families that have benefited from Children’s Heart Project.”