The Journey to Healing

February 13, 2020 • Bolivia
Maria Nelly and her mom are grateful to our Children’s Heart Project for giving them hope for Maria Nelly’s health and for helping them to learn about the hope found in Christ.
Maria Nelly and her mom are grateful to our Children’s Heart Project. Maria Nelly’s health has improved, and they are learning about the hope found in Christ.

A girl from the Amazon jungle receives life-saving care through our Ruth Bell riverboat clinic and Children’s Heart Project.

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Maria Nelly can’t remember a time when she didn’t have to summon all her energy just to take a breath. Each beat of the Bolivian girl’s heart was a struggle.

With each passing year, the 7-year-old’s health grew worse as she labored to breathe, was constantly tired, and often felt ill. Her family didn’t know what was causing her health struggles or if there was a remedy for them.

But Maria Nelly and her family don’t live anywhere near a hospital. The village where her family lives is situated along the Isiboro River, deep in the Amazon basin of Bolivia and at least three hours away from the closest medical outpost.

Her parents farm plantain, yucca, and rice to provide for their six children. Their only mode of transportation is a dug-out canoe called a peque-peque that is made from a hollowed tree trunk and powered by an outboard motor.

Reaching Remote Villages

Word had nevertheless spread to the family about the Samaritan’s Purse Ruth Bell riverboat clinic, which provides medical and dental assistance to remote villages in the Bolivian Amazon basin. So Maria Nelly’s aunt brought her to where the Ruth Bell was docked.

The weeks that Maria Nelly and her mom spent at the home of a host family gave them cherished opportunities to bond with them as Maria Nelly recovered from surgery. Photo courtesy of Courtney Platt

Maria Nelly and her mom were blessed to spend time together with their host family as the young girl recovered from surgery. Photo provided courtesy of Courtney Platt.

“She was slumped in her chair, crouching over and sucking in air through her mouth to breathe,” recalled Dr. Peter Tinsman, a retired obstetrician who was volunteering on the riverboat clinic through World Medical Mission—a medical ministry of Samaritan’s Purse.

Dr. Tinsman listened to Maria Nelly’s heart through a stethoscope. “Her heart murmur was so loud, pounding so hard that the skin above her heart moved discernibly with every beat,” he said. Dr. Tinsman knew that she needed an echocardiogram, and possibly heart surgery—procedures that were beyond the scope of the medical care offered on board the mobile clinic.

Our staff feared that, without help, Maria Nelly would never receive the procedure she desperately needed, and likely wouldn’t survive to her teenage years. So when the Ruth Bell staff returned to port, they alerted our Children’s Heart Project to Maria Nelly’s need for a cardiac screening—the first step toward determining if she was a candidate for heart surgery.

When the Ruth Bell revisited the area for another round of clinic visits, our staff sought out Maria Nelly and her family and asked them to return to the riverboat clinic.

Dr. Amelia Maas, a family medicine volunteer, examined Maria Nelly and was astounded by how desperate her situation was. “This little girl was struggling just to breathe,” Dr. Maas recalled. “She was not getting the nutrition she needed because of her cardiac condition. Her body was taking every bit of energy to keep her heart beating. Without medical intervention, she was at risk for heart failure.”

“Her body was taking every bit of energy to keep her heart beating.”

Maria Nelly and her mother immediately traveled for three days and nights to reach Santa Cruz, where Children’s Heart Project was conducting cardiac screenings.

From the Jungle to the Islands

During the screening, the doctors determined that Maria Nelly was a candidate for surgery. Samaritan’s Purse arranged for her and her mother, along with a translator, to travel to Health City Cayman Islands, where she had an operation to close the hole in her heart. Health City is one of our hospital partners that donates top-notch cardiac specialty services to Children’s Heart Project patients.

Through Children’s Heart Project, Samaritan’s Purse arranges life-saving operations for hundreds of children who live in countries where the required medical expertise and equipment are not available. We provide airfare for the child, a parent, and a translator and place them with host families and churches.

A few days after Maria Nelly’s heart procedure, she ran down the hospital hallway to hug our staff.

“For the first time, she was running—really running to us,” said Cindy Bonsall, director of our Children’s Heart Project. “She looked like a different child, so full of energy and smiles as she hugged us.”

Before the surgery, “I wasn’t able to play, to run, because I got tired really quickly,” Maria Nelly recalled. “It’s such a surprise to have all this energy that I’ve never had before.”

“It’s such a surprise to have all this energy that I’ve never had before.”

The relief that Maria Nelly’s mother felt was palpable as the weight of worry for her daughter dissipated. “I’m very thankful to God for working through Samaritan’s Purse,” she said.

There isn’t a church where the family lives deep in the Amazon, though missionaries have started a Bible study in their area. Maria Nelly’s mom hasn’t been attending the study regularly but now plans to start.

“I want to keep reading the Bible and learning more about God,” she said. “Things are not easy sometimes, but the Lord is working through them. He is in control of every detail. I’m very happy now that I can trust in the Lord.”

SUPPORT
About one out of every 100 babies has a heart defect that surgeons can routinely repair. Unfortunately, many of them are born in poor or remote places where their families cannot access the cardiac care they urgently need. Through our Children’s Heart Project, Samaritan’s Purse transports boys and girls from places like Bolivia, Mongolia, and Uganda to hospitals in North America. Doctors, hospitals, and host families and churches donate their time and services, but airfare is a major cost—typically $2,200 per person for international flights. For $22, you can share in this cost so that we can offer life-saving surgery and the unsurpassed hope of the Gospel. “But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation” (Psalm 13:5).
Save a Child's Life About one out of every 100 babies has a heart defect that surgeons can routinely repair. Unfortunately, many of them are born in poor or remote places where their families cannot access the cardiac care they urgently need. Through our Children’s Heart Project, Samaritan’s Purse transports boys and girls from places like Bolivia, Mongolia, and Uganda to hospitals in North America. Doctors, hospitals, and host families and churches donate their time and services, but airfare is a major cost—typically $2,200 per person for international flights. For $50, you can share in this cost so that we can offer life-saving surgery and the unsurpassed hope of Jesus Christ, "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6).

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Suggested Gift: $2,200 | Share the Cost: $50
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