Dr Rosa C'lia Barbosa has seen life on the streets from close quarters. As a child, she shuttled between various orphanages in Rio de Janeiro. But she overcame all adversity to become Brazil's leading cardiologist-pediatrician. Today, despite being at the zenith of a lucrative profession, Barbosa has dedicated her life to providing quality cardiac care for underprivileged children.
When Barbosa returned to Brazil after studying medicine at the National Heart Hospital in London, she joined the very private and expensive Hospital Pr' Card'aco, as its head. But, unlike her predecessors, one of the first steps she took was to establish a special pediatric cardiac unit. While there is no specific data on the number of children that succumb to heart ailments in Brazil, the deadly condition is responsible for 30 per cent of the deaths - around 300,000 - each year.
Poor children born with cardiac problems need specialized care, but due to the lack of infrastructure and skilled manpower in public hospitals a large number die waiting for treatment or surgery. The cost of surgery and follow-up treatments is also very high - R$ 10,000 (US$ 5,681) and R$ 150,000 (US$ 85,227), respectively.
Disturbed by this situation, Barbosa set up the Pr' Crian'a Card'aca Foundation in 1996 to assist parents in securing competent medical care for their little ones. She arrived at an arrangement with Hospital Pr' Card'aco, wherein she could utilize the hospital infrastructure for surgeries. All the treatment is paid for through donations the foundation receives. Till October this year, 11,500 ailing children have been treated and 625 cardiac surgeries conducted.
Everyone, from the members of her staff to her patients and their parents, is full of praise for the compassionate doctor. "Rosa C'lia is a fighter and helps everybody. If it wasn't for her, many children would have to wait in long lines for treatment and struggle for a vacancy for surgery," says cardiac surgeon Milton M'ier, 72, who is part of the staff at the foundation and has been associated with Barbosa since her student days in London.
Barbosa has ailing children being referred to her from various private clinics and public hospitals. A dedicated medical team of six cardiologists and four cardiac surgeons attends to kids coming to the foundation. During the initial stages of the treatment, Barbosa attends to every child personally. Besides the treatment, the foundation offers advice on diet; provides the medicines, clothes and toys; and also has an on-call dentist, since a tooth infection can be fatal for a cardiac patient. Every child is also given a basic food basket at every appointment.
Lucas, 8, who has Down's Syndrome, was operated on by the team at Pr' Crian'a Card'aca when he was only three months old. His mother, Elenice dos Santos, 47, says, "The whole treatment here is excellent. The team treats the children with a lot of love and affection."
Another grateful parent, Edna Ramos de Andrade, whose eight-year-old son, too, has Down's Syndrome says, "Dr Rosa C'lia and the team were angels that appeared in my life. We don't have health insurance and my son's problem was diagnosed at 14 weeks of gestation. Thanks to Rosa, we received first class treatment."
Barbosa believes that a child with a cardiac condition needs to be monitored for the rest of his/her life. According to her, if follow-up check-ups are not done from time-to-time then the first treatment and surgery can become quite worthless. Therefore, she has many patients that are now in their teens or are adults. For example, Tain' Vieira da Costa, 16, who had her surgery as a child but still visits for routine check ups.
"She had the surgery when she was nine. We have to bring her here from time-to-time," reveals Tain's mother, M'rcia Vieira Cunha, who works as a saleswoman.
In order to make sure that her work can reach out to many more people, the good doctor has now decided to build a hospital of her own, which promises to have best of caregivers and state-of-the-art infrastructure. "Things have improved a great deal. But we still have an enormous waiting list. The space at the Hospital Pr' Card'aco is very limited and they have no plans to expand the pediatric unit. So, I thought the only way to continue our work was by setting up a hospital of our own," explains Barbosa.
The land for the dream project has already been bought. A bulk of the funds - R$3 million (around US$ 1.6 million) - for the purchase were raised at a benefit, where Roberto Carlos, the renowned and respected musician, enthralled a packed audiences.
"We have also been receiving monthly donations between R$30 (around US$17) to R$1,000 (around US$590). People organize birthday parties and ask their guests to donate money for the foundation instead of getting gifts. Our work has received great support from the society, the media and business people as well. I think this is because we are credible. It is very important to be truthful and ethical," says the doctor.
Others who have come forward with a helping hand include Amil, a health insurance company, which has decided to pay for the architectural costs, and architect Jo'o Pedro Backheuser, who has volunteered to coordinate the project. In fact, even the Mayor of Rio, C'sar Maia, and Governor S'rgio Cabral have expressed their solidarity to the cause.
Dr L'cia Tomoko Fukuyama, who has been working with her for the last 15 years now, says that the new hospital is a dream come true for everyone at the foundation. "She makes things happen, she is committed to improving healthcare in Brazil. As her assistants, we are very proud," she says. The new hospital, which will be equipped to treat over 1500 children a month, is expected to be complete and functional in about 18 months time.
Barbosa has the final say. "I'm not the type of doctor that complains when the cell phone rings. It has to ring. I would mind very much if someone is in pain and not able to find me."