Three mothers and three children, a 12-year-old, a two-month-old and a six-day-old, from across the country, amongst numerous others……winners all the way! Although a beautiful plaque stands on a ledge in the doctors’ room amidst three huge teddy-bear soft toys, for want of a place to keep it, the true ‘prizes’ are the thousands of [...]


Coordination and planning nets prestigious prize for LRH heart staff

Spotlight on three diseased hearts of children nursed back to health

Three mothers and three children, a 12-year-old, a two-month-old and a six-day-old, from across the country, amongst numerous others……winners all the way!

A cozy corner for play and reading at the Paediatric Cardiology Unit of the LRH. Pic by Athula Devapriya

Although a beautiful plaque stands on a ledge in the doctors’ room amidst three huge teddy-bear soft toys, for want of a place to keep it, the true ‘prizes’ are the thousands of children’s hearts that are beating without a murmur, a miss or a stoppage.

These are the tiny and diseased hearts that the Paediatric Cardiac Team of the Lady Ridgeway Hospital (LRH) for Children has held tenderly in its skilful and caring hands and nursed back to health.

Everyone on the team is beaming. For, it has been selected as No. 1 in the ‘Cardiology Team of the Year’ category at the prestigious British Medical Journal (BMJ) South Asia Awards held on October 30 in Mumbai, India.

It is teamwork which sky-rocketed the team to fame, the Sunday Times learns. The awards saw 900 applications vying under 12 categories.

The stringent process led to 36 applications being shortlisted, with those applicants being invited to Mumbai for oral presentations before a jury, which finally picked the winners.

Stressing that teamwork and strong planning for the future brought about triumph, Paediatric Cardiologist Dr. Duminda Samarasinghe commends all those who made it possible.

And “all” comprise 200 people including Consultant Cardiologists, Consultant Cardiothoracic Surgeons, Consultant Anaesthetists, doctors, nurses and minor employees working without clock-watching in the LRH’s heart wards, clinics, operating theatres (OTs), intensive care unit (ICU) and high dependency unit (HDU), ably supported by radiological and laboratory staff as well as other units in the hospital.

How all these people work in tandem, without missing a beat, in the three-storey building with the walls painted with bright pictures, is highlighted evocatively by Chandima Tillekeratne from Kirindiwela in Gampaha.

With her two-month-old baby son, Manuja, suckling contentedly and looking up at her face on and off, Chandima relives the trauma of her family which began about a month ago.

Donations welcome

All those generous people out there who wish to make a donation to strengthen and improve facilities for the treatment of children with heart disease could make a donation to the Children’s Heart Project.

Donations in the form of cash or cheque (drawn in favour of ‘The Children’s Heart Project of Sri Lanka’) could be sent to: Account No. 101000314901 at the NDB Bank, Colombo 7 or Account No. 1190049177 at the Commercial Bank, Colombo 8.

For more information please e-mail: or access

Manuja developed a cough which got worse, she says, explaining how they showed him to Paediatrician Dr. Chulani Amarasinghe.

Not liking the way his heart was sounding, she advised them to take the baby to a Cardiologist. A thorough check followed by an echo revealed that Manuja’s “pirisindu” (oxygenated) and “apirisindu” (deoxygenated) blood was getting mixed.

There were holes in his tiny heart. The LRH Cardiac Team then reacted with military-style precision. A battery of tests having been carried out, the team met to discuss, like they do for each and every patient, what the best option for Manuja would be.

It was an operation and as he underwent open-heart surgery on October 29, Chandima was gripped by fear and sadness. Surrounded by her husband, Sanjaya Wijewickrama, and a few relatives she sat through the ordeal, she says, tears welling up in her eyes. Around 3.30 p.m. she was allowed to see her baby, with tubes snaking out of his tiny mouth and nose.

“Every single minute there was a nurse by his side in the ICU, checking all the vital signs with a doctor too always around,” says Chandima.

Praise is what she keeps repeating for all the staff whose pathway crossed that of her baby……paying tribute to them for going beyond the call of duty.

There has also been care and concern for mothers who have come from around the country. Realising that when babies are in the ICU, these mothers have no place to lay their weary heads, except on the floor outside the ICU, ‘Sahana Nivasa’ has been set up with donations.

A temporary but comfortable home, just outside the walls of LRH, these mothers can catch a few hours of rest, use the toilets and have their meals.

 LRH Paediatric Cardiac Team striving to do more

Not content with resting on their laurels, the LRH Paediatric Cardiac Team is striving to provide a national service where 3,000 children with heart diseases are treated every year. The targets are 1,000 catheter-based interventions and 2,000 cardiac surgeries.

Currently, the unit is performing 700 catheter interventions and 1,000 cardiac surgeries as well as about 25,000 echocardiograms every year. The impact is reflected by a drop in both the under-five and neonatal mortality (death) rates for which one of the common causes is congenital heart disease.

Plans are underway to expand the unit with a 10-storey building which is on the drawing boards. While the unit will occupy four storeys, setting up two more OTs and increasing ICU bed-capacity from 18 to 40, it will share the building with other vital segments such as the Medical ICU and the Neonatal ICU.

Under a 10-year development plan, the unit envisages that the balance 300 catheter interventions needed to meet the target would be performed by the Paediatric Cardiologists at outstation hospitals who will share the Catheterisation Laboratories with Cardiologists treating adults.

The milestones so far have been:
· The LRH Paediatric Cardiology Unit being set up in 1998 under Consultant Cardiologist Dr. S. Narenthiran, until which time there was no dedicated paediatric cardiology, even though the LRH, the tertiary-care referral centre for children, was established way back in 1890.

· The Catheterisation Laboratory being commissioned in December 2005. However, with no facilities for surgery or interventions, children diagnosed with cardiac conditions were referred to a few adult cardiothoracic centres which performed simpler surgeries only on a handful.

While a few private hospitals performed surgeries on those who could afford it and some affluent parents took their children abroad for treatment, most others died.

· Two cardiac surgical theatres and a cardiac ICU commissioned in January 2007 to begin an efficient and cost-effective programme under which every child with heart disease gets timely and appropriate treatment without being a burden on his/her family.

· Establishment of a date collection system without being a burden to the limited staff, with Dr. Samarasinghe himself designing and creating all databases from 2008. This has helped the unit to be more scientific, methodical and efficient in providing care in a limited-resource environment.

Awaiting interventions or operations, meanwhile, are 12-year-old Kokila Siwmini, the daughter of Siyani Dushanthi from Bibile and a six-day-old, yet unnamed baby boy, of Anusha Sandhani from Marawila.

Dr. Duminda Samarasinghe accepting the award on behalf of the LRH’s Paediatric Cardiac Team at the ceremony held in Mumbai

Kokila needs valve replacement and Anusha’s son rushed soon after birth from the Marawila Hospital because of “herda prashna” more tests and intervention.

Having undergone heart-rending sorrow as she had to bury her second daughter when she was just six months old due to heart problems sometime back, Anusha has immense faith now that her son is in good hands. “Mata godak vishwasai,” she says of the Paediatric Cardiac Team.

The secret of the success of the team lies in looking inward critically but without finger-pointing each day, the Sunday Times understands, while also garnering support from the Government, the LRH administration, headed by Director Dr. Kumar Wickramasinghe and anyone willing to lend a helping hand.

“Usually we are good at criticising others and telling them how an ‘ideal’ politician, policeman or professional should behave. What we do within these walls is try to make ourselves better each day,” says Dr. Samarasinghe.

He adds: “We don’t agree with each other all the time, neither do we put down someone who may disagree but try to come to a compromise.

If everyone on the team shares the same view or is made to share the same view then it becomes a detrimental cult. Whatever differences we have, there is always the common target – putting the patient first, with everything else being secondary.”

Pointing out that they have built on the strong and important initial work their predecessors began in the late 1990s, Consultant Cardiac Anaesthetist Dr. Anoma Perera says unlike many other programmes which started with a big bang and collapsed after a while, they began slowly and developed gradually.

“Negative views were galore that such a unit could not be developed in the Government sector but these challenges have been overcome.

There is no clock-watching and everyone is present at 7.30 in the morning and long after 4 p.m.,” says Dr. Perera, who pays special tribute to the nursing staff for their ‘silent’ service. “We have never had to postpone a surgery for want of consumables, for they would somehow find the needed items.”

As Dr. Perera underscores that “we can achieve many things as Government doctors” and that “we should be ourselves” while also planning ahead to whom the baton should be passed on, Dr. Samarasinghe re-echoes that they compare “what we were yesterday and try to do better today and still better tomorrow”.

Teamwork is the key to success, according to him. “We recognise the importance of every member, from consultant to labourer, in delivering proper patient care,” says Dr. Samarasinghe.

“We always try to get the maximum out of those who have some additional talent. Labourers with computer knowledge chip in as we do not have a dedicated computer team.”

The full team is guided by Cardiologists Dr. Samarasinghe, Dr. Shehan Perera and Dr. Ruwan Morawakkorala; Cardiothoracic Surgeons Dr. Kanchana Singappuli, Dr. Y.K.M. Lahie, Dr. Priyanga Rathnayake, Dr. Anil Abeywickreme and Dr. S. Mugunthan; and Cardiac Anaesthetists Dr. Perera, Dr. Mithrajee Premaratne and Dr. Dakshi Jayawickrama.

The ‘target’ of the full team is crystal clear – to treat all children with heart disease in a timely and apt manner……..and a testament to their achievements is when Chandima says without hesitation or doubt: “Lankawata thiyena lokuma sampathak.”

Yes, the LRH’s Paediatric Cardiology Unit is one of the biggest treasures the country has.

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