How do you mend a child’s broken heart? Tales of triumph from a top surgeon

Story highlights

Dr. Betty Gikonyo is a leading pediatric heart surgeon from Kenya

She has devoted her life to alleviating suffering of disadvantaged children

She helped establish a 102-bed state-of-the-art medical facility outside Nairobi

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Nairobi, Kenya CNN —  

Betty Gikonyo’s life changed forever at 30,000 feet.

Several years ago, the Kenyan pediatrician was flying with her three children to the United States, accompanying her husband who was pursuing a medical scholarship in Minneapolis. But just before their departure from Kenya, the family was asked to escort an 18-year-old boy flying to America for treatment on a heart condition.

The Gikonyos agreed and initially all seemed to be going well – the plane was airborne and cruising but then, suddenly, the boy began to get sick.

“He started getting difficulty in breathing,” recalls Gikonyo. “He started foaming through the mouth,” she continues. “We were very fortunate because we had the medication, and we found ourselves administering medicine in the air.”

After a short stop in Brussels to allow the boy’s condition to stabilize, the group were finally able to continue their journey – but the experience left a lasting impression on Gikonyo, shaping her mission to provide necessary healthcare for children in need.

“[It’s that] feeling that you need to do something for somebody you don’t know so that they can be comfortable, so that they can enjoy life the way you do,” she says.

Gikonyo has since returned to Kenya where she has become a leading pediatric cardiologist. Focused on improving access to quality healthcare, her illustrious career has seen her help establish the Heart to Heart Foundation, which raises funds for disadvantaged children to receive lifesaving surgery.

Gikonyo also began organizing medical airlifts overseas so children could receive the vital treatment. But it was in 2006 when the Kenyan doctor realized her 20-year dream of opening a state-of-the-art facility where could treat children with ailing hearts, the Karen Hospital just outside Nairobi.

Watch the video below to learn more about Gikonyo’s continued mission to alleviate suffering and improve the lives of countless children.

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