Silumini was a lucky recipient of a magical heart operation by the Take Heart Mercy Mission to Sri Lanka, during one of our pilgrimages to Sri Lanka. Born in Ragama, about 30 kilometres northwest of Colombo, Silumini was just like any other little girl and was the centre of the world for her parents, father Upul, a winchman at Columbo port and Samanthika; a stay at home mum.
The first sign of the problem that was to traumatise the family was Silumini's incessant crying - every baby cries, but this was non-stop, her parents tell me; day and night it went on. She also seemed to be struggling when doing something as natural as breathing. Numerous visits to the General Practitioner as well as the Ragama Hospital proved useless as doctors insisted that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the little one.
Perhaps the most galling thing - or this may be something that is understandable to a certain extent in Sri Lanka depending on how you look at it - was the fact that doctors refused to provide the family an Echo examination. After endless months and attempts to get the doctors to agree to an Echo, the family finally succeeded, only to find out that 11 month old Silumini had a hole in her heart. The parents tell me that they were absolutely devastated and had no idea what to do, while doctors insisted that the hole would close up naturally.
Fate however, had other ideas. At a healing session at their local church, Silumini's parents heard that a group of doctors from the UK were due to arrive in Sri Lanka to conduct free heart operations and the church had been asked to submit the name of a family that required an emergency operation for a loved one. By the time Samanthika got around to telling the church about Silumini, the one name had already been chosen, that one a man in his 30's who required urgent surgery on a heart ailment.
Crestfallen, the family were back to square one. A few days later a messenger from the church arrived at the Fernando household to inform them that the doctors only perform operations on children and that the earlier man's name had been picked wrongly. There was then a mad dash from Ragama to the General Hospital in Colombo with Samanthika riding on the back of her brother in law's motorcycle with tiny Devmini in a helmet. At the hospital the doctors examined Silumini then began discussing something between themselves, Samanthika continues that she could see the grave looks in their faces and feared the worst. Then one of the local doctors came up to her and told her that operation or not, her little girl only had weeks to live. The chief surgeon on the team Mr. Conal Austin FRCS, insisted that the operation was too difficult and the chances of survival for the little girl were staggeringly slim. In the end however he agreed to go ahead with the surgery, taking five hours to close the hole in Silumini's heart.
Silumini's operation, in 2002, was the first carried out by the Take Heart team in Sri Lanka. Little Silumini was in London as Dr. Austin and Dr. Simpson were honoured at the Children's Champions Awards, organised by children's charity Barnado's and News of the World. Speaking on behalf of the parents, Mrs. Samanthika Fernando, said they were deeply grateful to the team. "When we had no hope, you came and saved us," she said. Silumini and her parents were later flown to London by the team and had the privilege of meeting British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Mrs Blair at a ceremony where Mr Austin was honoured for his work with a 'Children's Champion Award'.