A Back-to-School Story We Can All Smile About This Year

Across the world, families and teachers are navigating a return to school that feels very different than years past. During a time that is usually filled with nervous excitement and new beginnings, we are instead contemplating our children's safety, making difficult decisions, and, overall, facing unprecedented uncertainty.

We want to share with you a special back-to-school story about one of our patients. It is a tale of hope and kind strangers, perseverance through adversity, and a story that we think everyone can relate to. We hope that it will bring a smile to your face and remind you of the power of doing good even in the most challenging of times.

Part I: A Tale of Two Teachers

Ko Aung Naing is an English teacher living with his wife, daughter, and sister in an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp along the Chinese-Burma border. Ko Aung's wife is a math teacher, and they work together at a middle school in their IDP camp.

While at work in January of 2019, Ko Aung's heart began to race, and he suddenly felt exhausted. He began to feel this way more often and was tired constantly, even while not doing anything strenuous.

So, Ko Aung asked his friend, a local doctor, to examine him. His friend determined that he had a problem with his heart and advised him to consult with doctors at a Chinese hospital across the border. When Ko Aung traveled to China in March he learned that he needed to undergo cardiac surgery. However, the surgery would cost 100,000 Chinese yuan (approx. $15,000 USD). Unable to pay such a large sum, Ko Aung returned home to Burma, untreated.

Ko Aung's 77 mi (124 km) journey across the border from Momauk, Burma to Mangshi, China.

Determined to restore his health, Ko Aung then traveled south to Mandalay General Hospital in Burma, where doctors diagnosed him with a congenital heart defect. Although the surgery at this hospital was less expensive, there was a long waiting list. It could take years for Ko Aung to undergo surgery. He was advised to seek care at a nearby private hospital where they could potentially perform his surgery sooner. However, there it would cost 20 million kyats (approx. $15,000 USD). Still unable to afford surgery, Ko Aung instead traveled home again, this time with three months' worth of medication to stabilize his condition.

Part II: A Kind Stranger

In August, Ko Aung traveled to Bhamo, Burma for his uncle's funeral. There, he met a woman who had undergone heart surgery. She was a patient of Watsi's Medical Partner, Burma Children Medical Fund (BCMF), and urged him to accompany her to BCMF's office in Mae Sot, Thailand to seek care when she returned for her follow-up appointment.

"She told me that I should go to Mae Sot, where an organization could help fund the cost of my surgery," shared Ko Aung. "Even though I did not know about them, I believed her right away and had faith that they would be able to help me."

Ko Aung and his new friend traveled for four days from Bhamo, Burma before arriving at the BCMF office on August 26th in Mae Sot, Thailand. There, Watsi's local partner, BCMF, agreed to help Ko Aung undergo surgery.

Ko Aung's 785 mi (1,264 km) journey from Bhamo, Burma to Mae Sot, Thailand.

Part III: A New Heart

Ko Aung was admitted to Pinlon Hospital on September 13th, and two days later, he underwent surgery to finally close the hole in his heart. His aunt, who looked after him while he was in the hospital, shared that he only needed one blood transfusion during the surgery. Ko Aung remained in the critical care unit for three days before he was moved to the general patient ward to recover. He went home from the hospital on September 23rd, nine months after his initial diagnosis.

Ko Aung back at home, a few months after his surgery.

“I'm thrilled that I got the chance to have a healthy life again,” shared Ko Aung. “I want to thank BCMF, Watsi, and all the doctors and nurses who helped me get well. I pray to God that he blesses you always. If not for your help, my family and I would not have been able to afford my surgery. I will never forget the help that I received and will make a donation once I have saved enough money. Now, my life has returned to normal, and my family no longer has to worry, they are very happy for me.”

Part IV: A Full Life Ahead

Today, Ko Aung feels like he has made a full recovery. He helps his wife with household chores and even has returned to teaching. We feel so privileged to have helped Ko Aung on his long journey to restore his health and go back to school.

This was a journey spanning five hospitals across three countries in nine months. It was a journey that demonstrated the importance of perseverance and kindness. But it was also a journey that was difficult for Ko Aung's family. When Ko Aung's condition forced him to leave his teaching position in January of 2019, his wife became the family’s sole provider. Her monthly salary of 70,000 kyats (approx. $70 USD) was not even enough to pay for their basic needs.

Ko Aung has been able to return to teach his English class at the school in their IDP camp.

Ko Aung is one of more than 33 million people worldwide who face impoverishing expenditures due to payment for surgery each year. These costs can push a family that is working hard to make ends meet into generational poverty. Our Watsi community is proud to be a part of the solution to this problem by helping patients facing extreme poverty across the Global South access the safe, high-quality surgical care that they need.

We envision a world where people everywhere can access quality surgical care, serving as a foundation for healthier lives, thriving communities, and strengthened health systems.

Please join us in making this vision a reality by supporting patients on a journey to a healthier future like Ko Aung, an inspiring husband, father, and teacher.

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The Watsi Team

The Watsi Team

Everyone deserves healthcare.