Saving the lives of children is tireless work. The surgical repair of complex congenital heart conditions is prohibitively expensive and children with these types of birth defects cannot be treated within Yunnan province. Many cases are simply chalked up as lost causes. However, for more than a decade, 73 year-old Dr Robert Detrano has crisscrossed provincial cities and countryside towns in search of infants and children with complex heart disease. Next month, he will set out on a 163-kilometer walk from Dali (大理) to Lijiang (丽江) to raise money and awareness for children suffering from these life-threatening ailments.
Begining October 14, Detrano will embark on the journey, highlighting the situations of children such as Lu Yong — diagnosed at the age of two with severe cyanotic heart disease — who cannot receive adequate insurance reimbursements to cover the costs of his surgery. The hike will begin at Erhai Gate in Dali Old Town (大理古城洱海门) at 7am on October 14. Detrano will finish at Lijiang's Dayan Old Town (丽江古城大研古城). Detrano explains that the walk will be difficult, and for good reason, saying:
I want it to be challenging and painful. Many of the kids have constant trouble breathing. They can't exercise. One little girl we've identified has a problem with her aorta, and as a result, her brain doesn't ever get enough oxygen to function properly. She constantly has severe headaches. I want the people walking with me, and anyone who hears about the walk, to get just a glimpse of how difficult and painful it often is for these kids to live.
China-California Heart Watch, the charitable organization founded by Detrano in 2006, has thus far helped fund and perform over five-hundred heart surgeries on children in Yunnan. Thirty of those cases were diagnosed as imminently fatal without medical intervention. Five children, including Lu Yong, now face similar situations. A typical surgery — which are generally too complicated to properly perform in Yunnan hospitals — costs between 60,000 and 100,000 yuan (US$9,000-15,000).
For many years, the Kunming community has given generously to charities like Heart Watch through public charity events and private contributions. We hope it can again. The Have a Heart fundraiser, held last November, managed to raise more than 60,000 yuan for at-risk kids. And as far back as 2009, Detano's Yunnan-based NGO contributed stories explaining just how unaware Chinese urbanites are of inadequate rural cardiac healthcare conditions. His work continues to move forward today, one step and one child at a time.
GoKunming urges the Kunming community, as well as those living abroad, to dig deep and help Dr Detrano raise as much money as possible for this vital cause. Donations can be made at the Walk for Hearts campaign via fundraising site YouCaring or by giving directly to the organization at ChinaCal. Detrano would also like people to join him for the walk. The more people involved, the more attention and media focus it can gather.
People who would like to join in the walk — for one hour, one day, or one week — should leave a note in the comments section of the YouCaring page or contact ChinaCal directly. Corporate sponsorships are also available. Detrano will wear a company or organization's t-shirt when donations of more than 20,000 yuan (US$3,000) are received. In-person cash donations can also be made at Salvador's Coffee House and Slice of Heaven. If you know a company that is willing to become a sponsor or donate, please get in touch through the ChinaCal website or by sending a message with the subject heading "Detrano" to the GoKunming contact form.