It wasn’t meant to be like this.
At first Sanou and Kone welcomed their sixth son, Fatao, into the world. Another boy! Celebrating their sweet baby’s birth, they prayed he would have a future better than theirs. But as they watched their son grow into a toddler, something went wrong.
Fatao had no energy. He didn’t eat well. His heart seemed to beat too quickly. So Sanou and Kone did what seemed impossible.
They scraped together enough francs to visit a doctor. The sacrifice was almost too much to handle on their combined salaries of less than $2 a day. But they would do anything to help their sick boy get well.
On the day they visited the doctor, they waited with hundreds of other patients. Some had fevers, some had coughs, many had starving children. The line snaked around a red-dirt street to the only medical center near their home in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso.
The doctor was stretched, available only a few days a week. On the other days he traveled to nearby villages to tend to the sick and dying.
When Sanou and Kone finally visited the doctor, he listened to Fatao’s heart, took x-rays, ran tests. Soon after, he gave them a diagnosis — one that revealed their worst fears:
“There is nothing we can do for your son here. Fatao has a ventricular septal defect. There is a hole in his heart. He needs surgery to patch it, but there is no medical equipment here. He will die without help. You must take him abroad.” Hopeless and numb, Sanou and Kone wept together. And almost resigned to give up.
A trip abroad would cost $23,000 — about 12 million francs.
“Fatao’s disease is not a disease for a poor person,” Sanou says. “There is no way to pay.”
In one last desperate attempt to save their son, they pinched together a few more francs and tried the traditional healing methods popular in their town. A witch doctor scarred the boy’s skin with small holes. Then he placed herbs on the skin and washed it with boiled leaves. Fatao’s heart did not heal.
The toddler grew into a small and listless boy as the years ground on. Sanou and Kone ached to know how much time they had left with their son. Then a new opportunity came —and with it, a chance for hope to take root.
Sanou heard about a Compassion center at a church a few blocks from their concrete hut. The pastor and staff, neighbors said, were helping their children. Maybe they could help Fatao, too?
Sanou rushed to enroll Fatao in Compassion’s Child Sponsorship Program. Not long after, a pediatrician came to the center for health checkups — almost unheard of for children who had barely seen a doctor, much less a specialist.
The pediatrician confirmed what Kone and Sanou already knew. Fatao would need to go abroad for open-heart surgery. If the now-5-year-old did not go soon, he would die.
Hearing this news, Compassion staff in Burkina Faso began securing funding then planning for the trip. “I wept for joy when I found out that Fatao would be able to have the surgery,” says Kone. “I bent my head down because I didn’t want the pastor to see me cry, but they were tears of joy.”
For the surgery, Fatao would need to travel to Chennai, India, where leading-edge equipment and an excellent hospital specializing in heart surgeries are located. Director and Chief Pediatric Cardiac Surgeon Dr. Robert Coelho would perform the surgery — a skilled physician who had already saved the lives of 3,000 children, including 18 Compassion-assisted children from Africa and India.
When Compassion sponsors and donors heard about Fatao’s need, they quickly raised the funds he needed to go.
Fatao’s parents would need to stay home. Without birth certificates, savings accounts and steady jobs, they were denied passports. Both agreed to have Marie-Jeanne, the health specialist at Fatao’s Compassion center, travel with him instead. On March 6, 2012, Fatao began his 6,000-mile journey from a broken heart to a whole one.