ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, April 15, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 46

Little heart opens up with love

Delighted over their son’s recovery, Mark’s parents put together a thanksgiving party with a difference

By Esther Williams

When Mark van Briemen was barely a year old he developed a cough that would not go away. From his chest X-rays the paediatric cardiologist confirmed the family’s fears: Tetralogy of Fallot – a congenital heart condition that required immediate open heart surgery.

Maarten and Hester with their three boys.

Dutch couple Hester and Maarten van Briemen now living in Sri Lanka had been concerned about all three of their children all along. “My brother and wife had a baby with a heart problem and their child did not survive the surgery,” Maarten explained.

Thus, the news was earth shattering. “We thought that we were going to lose him,” Hester recounts. Despite the assurances of cardiologist Dr. Sivakumar at Apollo Hospital, the family went through an exceedingly tense period.

The surgery conducted in Holland soon after was not without complications. While Mark was in the ICU for two weeks, the parents camped at the Ronald McDonald Home next door, a unit for parents with children in the ICU. “He was unconscious for almost two weeks,” Maarten explained, and then transferred to a ward for another two weeks.

There was a Sri Lankan baby in the ICU next to Mark, Hester recalls. “Their parents prayed for their baby and ours too. It encouraged us and helped us through,” she said. In fact when Mark was being wheeled into the ICU he reached out his arms to the Sri Lankan couple for a hug, very familiar with Sri Lankans from having lived here.

The van Briemens are back in Colombo and Mark now 1 1/2 is sufficiently recovered. Looking at his angelic face, one would never guess the ordeal he has been through. However, a valve leading to the lung it appears has a leak which although OK at present will need to be replaced when he is about 10. “He will need another surgery then but it is a less risky operation,” Hester says. The good news is that a routine check recently confirmed that Mark could stay away from the hospital for the next three years.
It was a time to celebrate. “We thought that after such a tense time, we needed to thank God and share our happiness with our friends,” Maarten says. So many people had prayed and supported them in different ways.


The thanksgiving party was one with a difference. The invitation stated that they did not want any gifts. Having read in The Sunday Times about the Children’s Heart Project, the van Briemens were keen to contribute to this project that targets the poorest of the poor from remote areas, by trying to increase the number of successful heart operations and reduce the waiting lists.

“Mark has everything he needs,” they reasoned, inviting people to also make a donation in the box they provided at the party, if they wished to contribute. Some of the children even brought toys that they wanted to give to the children undergoing heart surgery at the hospital.

“We are privileged to have Mark’s condition diagnosed and to organise surgery in a good facility. Since many families do not have the same privilege we wanted to share the blessings we have received with others,” Maarten who works with the Dutch aid agency Zoa International adds. Thanks to many contributions, they were able to raise close to Rs.100,000 for the Children’s Heart Project.

One in every 400 children in Sri Lanka is born with a potentially deadly congenital heart defect, most of which can be cured through timely surgery. At any given time, there are some 1,200 children on the waiting list for heart surgery in Sri Lanka. Many children will not survive the wait.

The Children’s Heart Project of Sri Lanka is a Government approved charity set up to help save Sri Lankan children with congenital heart diseases. It aims to increase the number of successful children’s heart operations performed annually and ultimately to eliminate the waiting lists. This is done primarily by supporting the government with funds and donations in kind to build capacity; and in the interim by providing financial assistance to a limited number of children requiring urgent intervention and having to seek private sector facilities in Sri Lanka.

For more information visit or contact or 0773 679 617. Donations can be made to ‘The Children’s Heart Project of Sri Lanka’ and forwarded C/O Ernst and Young, 201, De Saram Place, Colombo 10.’

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.