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Battle against heart diseases takes new heartbeat

 Heart attack survivor Samuel Keter Sang during an interview at Norfolk yesterday. [David Gichuru, Standard]

Samwel Keter, 50, is all attention as health experts give tips on how best to take care of the heart.

He is keen to take note of what the experts are saying, but he has to frequently take a break to take a sip of water.

He is among those attending the World Heart Day Celebrations in Nairobi.

“I must take enough water and eat right to keep my heart system in check,” he says.

Keter was diagnosed with rheumatic heart disease when he was 18 years old.

 “It started as a sore throat, transformed into rheumatic fever and later brought news that would change my life for good,” he said.

What evolved into the irreversible heart condition stemmed from excruciating pain in the throat, one of the known symptoms of rheumatic fever, a complication associated with strep throat.

Medical experts explain that rheumatic fever -- the condition that limited Keter’s swallowing and talking and which made his childhood a living nightmare -- tops the list of killer diseases in Kenya projected to outdo Aids, tuberculosis and malaria by the year 2025.

“I couldn’t play like other children. I was frequently out of breath especially if I made sudden body movements like rising without caution. I can’t remember much about my life as a six-year old but I reckon it simply wasn’t the best,” he says. When Keter’s health deteriorated, his parents took him to Kenyatta National Hospital in 1982. He was attended to by a group of cardiologists from the US who had visited the hospital.

Sad news

“The specialists broke the sad news that my heart condition had gone beyond repair and nothing could be done about it, at least not in Kenya,” he recalls.

With the help of a US-based Children’s Heart Fund, he was flown to the US and his heart, which had terribly damaged valves, was operated on.

Dr Robert Mathenge, cardiologist and Chairman of Heart Attack Concern Kenya, explained the deadly relationship between oral health, including throat infections and dental health and heart diseases.

He says that anti-bodies released to fight the bacteria responsible for sore throat also attack the proteins in the heart.

Keter’s condition could have been salvaged had there been effective systems in place to diagnose the ailment when the symptoms of the heart disease started to manifest.

“We are, however, not where we were 30 years ago. With clot busters now available in major provincial hospitals in Kenya, the country has made progress in tackling cardiac arrests and reduced the number of fatalities in heart related issues,” Mathenge says.

The country has centres that facilitate optimal care in Nairobi and is expanding to Mombasa, with a total of eight qualified cardiologists in optimal treatment.

According to Mathenge, training on first aid in households can also tame fatalities.

Risk factors, he says, stem from one’s lifestyles as well as family history. These individuals are more prone to suffering Sudden Cardiac Arrests (SCA).

SCA is a situation where the heart stops beating effectively to facilitate blood flow in the body and eventually results in the person becoming unresponsive.

A heart attack occurs mainly when one starts experiencing shortness of breath and pain.

One may also feel pain in the jaw or in the arm, nausea and sometimes cold sweat.

“Dispensaries also prescribe a 300mg of aspirin to heart related issues as it is known to open blocked arteries within minutes. It is always wise to have aspirin in the house,” Mathenge says.

He recommends victims of cardiac arrests to be rushed to medical centres within an hour because failure to do so can exert a lot of pressure on the heart when arteries are not unclogged in time.

It is the pressure, according to the medic, that causes the heart to lose its muscle and result to irreversible heart conditions, a situation like that of Keter.

“In Keter’s case, his heart was already damaged. He could be living a normal life had he been treated in good time,”

Life has not been easy for Keter. “My children usually had a problem understanding why I could not run normally. All I can do, I always told them was a few strolls and that was to it,” he says.

The three-day heart sensitisation event had been organised by Phillips in collaboration with the Kenya Red Cross.

Phillips Health Systems Manager, Poovasen Chetty, has expressed commitment to forge partnerships with the ministry of Health to improve sensitisation about heart diseases.

“We are slowly moving towards safe cities like the Scandinavian countries where with state of the art technology, a heart attack victim is attended to in a few minutes,” Chetty said.

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