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Account of the first mission

European Heart for Children

The first mission was carried out in Damascus, Syria, and was conducted in partnership with the Association Bambini Cardiopatici nel Mondo with Dr. Frigiola and his team.


The first mission was carried out in Damascus, Syria, between 18-20th April. We chose Syria because Bambini Cardiopatici nel Mondo has been collaborating with the University of Damascus for more than 10 years and hase operated on more than 70 children. The Association has almost completed the realisation of a centre for diagnosis and treatment of congenital heart disease at the paediatric University Hospital.

This centre, which is scheduled to open in October 2009, is the result of the cooperation with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and will offer adequate treatment to 800-1000 babies per year. Syria has 20 million inhabitants, 55% of which are under the age of 15, has 3 000 new cases of congenital heart disease per year and only 1 000 are currently treated.

We thought that Syria could be an ideal country to start this ESC project as we could learn and benefit from this important experience. We had the chance to meet Dr. Ridd Said, the current Minister of Health of the Syrian Arabic Republic, who kindly explained to us the relevant steps which allowed Bambini Cardiopatici nel Mondo to be successful with their project.

In two days 52 children were visited, six operated on in Damascus, and three sent to Italy as they need special care. Claudia Florio Ferrari participated in the mission together with Mario Canale to film the activities. Below are Claudia Florio Ferrari’s impressions:

“The first touching moment was when I entered a small room and saw hundreds of mothers and fathers with their babies in their arms, literally handing them over to the doctors and even to me, with hope and prayers in their eyes. They entrusted us with their most precious belonging and I will never forget this image.

The second touching moment was when, in front of x-rays, echos, and clinical notes, the doctors decided, according to the clinical condition, who to operate on and who not to operate on. I realised that at that moment they were making decisions that could lead to the life or death of the children. I was also taken by the seriousness of the process and by the participation of the entire team. Just before, in another room, I had been handed a 3 months old baby, called Ali. He was literally blue. I could not believe that Dr. Frigiola had decided that it was too late to operate on him as the risk was too high. I realised that he was going to die very soon. I asked Dr. Frigiola to give him a chance, realising that what I was doing was wrong! Correctly so, the doctors chose to operate on those cases which have the highest chance of survival. But… Dr. Frigiola did eventually take Ali into the operating theatre, and we saw Ali turn from blue to pink. This was a very happy moment.

The third touching moment was when I returned to Syria after two months to film the children’s progress. It was obviously very emotional to see some of them playing and laughing, but what was even more touching were the faces of the parents. They looked like different people, happy and grateful to life and even to me, who really did nothing for them. I think that the doctors should try to live and enjoy these moments in order to see the success of their work, because it is the biggest gratification in the world.”

- Claudia Florio Ferrari