Form One Coryal High School student, 13-year-old Fiona Seepersad has been defying the odds her entire life.
From the moment Fiona was born, the cards were stacked against her. Barely one month after her birth, Fiona was diagnosed with congenital heart disease. Her mother, Hemawatie Seepersad, said “When she born, we didn’t know what was wrong with her. She was crying, crying, crying consistently. We tried all kinds of things, and she wasn’t hushing. We took her to Mount Hope a night, and the doctor was asking why she was breathing hard like that…we didn’t know.”
Doctors decided to keep little Fiona for overnight observation however, that 24 hours turned into one week at hospital where she was treated with antibiotics. Seepersad was then told her daughter would need to do a Pulmonary artery banding (PAB)—aa technique of palliative surgical therapy used by heart surgeons as a staged approach for operative correction of congenital heart defects.
Caribbean Heart Care Medcorp (CHCM) Limited managing director, Dr Kamal Rampersad, who was following the case, told Guardian Media her heart was located on the wrong side of her body.
"To operate on her, she had to have several surgeries which were complex. Now transposition is not an operation we’ve done since. She’s by far the most complex paediatric heart surgery we’ve done in Trinidad and Tobago,” he added.
During that time, her mother indicated, four other babies were suffering from a similar condition. These babies, she said, were sent by the then government to various foreign hospitals for surgery. However, baby Fiona was forced to do hers at Mount Hope due to complications in her case.
“Of course, I was scared. That time we were hearing a lot of children dying in Mount Hope. But we did it,” she said. Of the four children, Fiona was the only one to survive the surgery.
Following the surgery, doctors told her mother that Fiona would no longer be able to walk and even though she would have the characteristics of a “normal” child growing up, her brain would remain like a toddler's.
However, speaking to Guardian Media 13 years after her procedures, Fiona stood proudly and strongly on her two feet saying. “I feel normal," she said, a statement which was further backed up by her mother who indicated that she was able to write the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) and pass for one of her choices, Coryal High School.
Fiona does not see limitations, she sees herself simply as a Form One student who can’t participate in certain physical activities. And this does not faze her. Despite this, Fiona said she still gets her exercise by taking walks around her school with her friends. Fiona currently has her sights on becoming either a beautician or going abroad to become a paediatric nurse.
Due to her condition, she still has one more surgery left to be done. However, doctors are delaying it. "The body is not calling for it, but even if...they are trying their best to delay because it (the procedure) has no survivors...I hoping to never make that decision (to do the surgery). If she reaches the age and she could make the decision on her own, I prefer she does that. I don't think my heart could take that...it was really hard for us," Seepersad said.
Fiona was honoured over a week ago by the CHCM at their awards ceremony to commemorate their 25th anniversary at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.
At the CHCM's awards ceremony they honoured cardiac surgeons, dedicated employees, and other past patients such as the first ever open heart surgery patient in T&T, Paul Regis who is now 91-years-old.