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Painting a picture of hope

Katrina Aquilina, founder of Beating Hearts Malta.

Katrina Aquilina, founder of Beating Hearts Malta.

The Phoenicia are supporting Katrina Aquilina, founder of Beating Hearts Malta, by hosting an exhibition of paintings by Beating Hearts chairman, Professor Victor Grech, which is showing at the Palm Court Lounge until tomorrow.

The exhibition is being held to help raise funds for equipment at Mater Dei’s Cardiac Lab. Prof. Grech leads the Paediatric Cardiology Services at Mater Dei Hospital.

Beating Hearts Malta (BHM), was established primarily to support parents and children born with heart problems or defects, specifically the condition known as congenital heart disease. Beating Hearts Malta is kicking off an initiative aimed at funding research and contributing towards the attendance by doctors working in adult and paediatric cardiology at conferences and courses.

Katrina explains that she decided to put her time and energy into establishing BHM in 2011, soon after her first-born child was diagnosed with congenital heart disease at three weeks old, and Katrina had to fly with him in an air ambulance to Great Ormond Street hospital. There, the infant underwent the first of four life-saving procedures that have given him 50 per cent use of his heart.

We were virtually told that we should prepare for the worst

“We were virtually told after the second operation that we should prepare for the worst. It was completely overwhelming to think that was my baby, seeing him so sick and clinging to life. However, within a week he was responding to the treatments and care, and now you would hardly know that he’s had to face more than most adults, even though he’s only eight! What we didn’t know back then is that about eight out of every 1,000 people are affected by congenital heart disease. It’s much more common than you think.”

Katrina continues: “Some heart defects may be insignificant and may disappear over time. Others are extremely serious and life-threatening requiring surgical intervention at birth and during the course of one’s life, as in our case. We cannot thank Prof. Grech and other healthcare professionals enough for the work they do to save lives. And I am glad that BHM has been able to promote awareness and help educate social care professionals, employers, insurers and the public about the existence and the needs of people with CHD. It’s possible to lead an almost normal life when you have the support of others.”

Recognising what she and her family had been through, and not wanting others to feel confused or isolated when dealing with their illness, Katrina felt it vital that other congenital heart disease sufferers have access to a support group, advice, some counselling and to be able to share their experiences with others who are facing this debilitating illness.

Katrina and other volunteers have, so far, raised over €200,000 which have been used to purchase much-needed equipment at Mater Dei, matched by financial input from the government.

The latest fundraising activity, with paintings on display at The Phoenicia’s Palm Court Lounge, as well as three other local hotels and in three international centres, is one of the many activities organised over the last seven years.

If you would like to encourage other survivors and caregivers on a regular basis, or buy a painting, or to make a donation send an e-mail to katrina.aquilina@gmail.com.

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