At only four years old, Thaakirah Matthews, proves that even the bravest of fighters, can come in small packages. Since infancy, Thaakirah has fought a fatal heart condition, which at most times, seemed bleak and hopeless. On Wednesday 3 December, this fearless little girl celebrated her fourth birthday at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital which her father, Fareed Matthews refers to as “their second home”.
At a special event on Wednesday, the hospital honoured her for her tenacity and perseverance throughout her ordeal by telling her inspirational story through the Children’s Hospital Trust. Her parents, along with hospital staff, also unveiled a mural painting with a message of ‘healthy hearts’ – as a tribute to the young patient.
“Throughout her life, Thaakirah has grown close with the staff from the cleaners, her fellow patients, nurses and doctors. We decided to do the park painting in honour of her, as Thaakirah’s favourite thing to do is play in the park,” says dad Fareed.
“We will also be having a party for Thaakirah at the Aquarium on Sunday. Thanks to generous sponsors who have decided to have a birthday party for Thaakirah every year. Last year, she wanted to be a princess and her wish was granted.”
For Thaakirah’s parents, it’s been a heavy burden to shoulder over the past four years. It all started in 2011, when Thaakirah was only three months old and her mother, Raadiyah took her to the doctor to treat what she then thought was a severe case of diarrhoea. However, when doctors completed tests on baby Thaakirah, Raadhiyah was told that her daughter had transposition of the great arteries, pulmonary stenosis and a ventricular septal defect.
Doctors explained that Thaakirah’s heart presented extremely complex defects where her two main arteries were reversed, resulting in decreased oxygen in the blood pumped to the rest of her body. At that same time, when Thaakirah was only three months old, surgeons inserted a cardiac shunt to oxygenate her blood due to the narrowing of her pulmonary vessel. She needed to have regular check-ups with cardiologists on an outpatient basis.
“Thaakirah always has a smile on her face. No matter how sick she is. We are really so thankful to the hospital, as they have done all they can to ensure that my daughter is healthy. Sometimes Thaakirah was fine and then, out of nowhere, her health would just deteriorate,” Fareed recalls.
The hospital said Thaakirah’s condition is statistically classed as 1 in 500 000 which falls into 1 – 3% of the global congenital heart defects.
In 2013, Thaakirah showed signs of facial paralysis and was admitted to the cardiac ward at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital. A day later, she lost movement on one side of her body and after an MRI scan, neurologists detected two abscesses growing on her brain – one on the surface of her brain and the other right in the centre of her brainstem.
Neurosurgeons performed a stereotactic neuro navigation-guided aspiration of the abscess using the Cape Town Stereotactic Pointer, designed by a team of Cape Town professionals. This operation had not been done for years at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital and the risk was paralysis or not waking up after the surgery. The procedure was successful. However, this journey of hospital admissions was not over for Thaakirah as her heart defects were still detrimental.
Thaakirah had a Nikaidoh-bex procedure performed by resident cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr André Brooks – a first time surgical procedure of its kind on a child’s heart at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital. Her main arteries were reversed to the position it should be and the pulmonary vessel was brought out anteriorly (to the front of her heart) and connected to the right heart ventricle due to the complex narrowing of this vessel – another milestone achievement for this extraordinary children’s hospital.
“During the last month of Ramadan, after the surgery, we had to teach Thaakirah all the basics again…how to walk, how to stand up. Through the grace of Allah, at the end of Ramadan she was back on her feet,” Fareed recalled.
“Allah puts each and every one of us through trials in our lives. If we do not find our purpose in the most difficult of times then everything we went through would have been for nothing. My family and I have no decided to open a trust fund in Thaakirah’s name as we feel it is our duty in giving thanks to Allah and give back to society.”
For more on Thaakirah’s story, visit childrenshospitaltrust.org.za. VOC (Ra’eesah Isaacs)