PORTLAND (AP) – With help from a religious order in Alfred, an educator in Uganda has been treated in Maine for a rare and potentially life-threatening heart condition.

Betty Mbatudde was born with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, which makes the heart beat dangerously fast and can worsen with age. While her doctors warned that she could die unless the extra pathway in her heart was removed, the necessary procedure is not done in Uganda, where the AIDS epidemic is the chief health concern.

Mbatudde worried about two children she has raised alone since her husband died, the six orphaned nieces and nephews who live with her and the elementary school where she is the principal of 800 students.

But through a chain of events that she calls miraculous, Mbatudde was able to come to Maine this summer and get the short-circuit in her heart fixed. She boards a plane for home Thursday, completely cured.

“It was like I was dead and I’ve come back to life, said Mbatudde, 38.

Abnormal heart rhythms had bothered Mbatudde since she was 13, making her dizzy and tired. As she entered adulthood, the symptoms became unbearable.

She began an expensive regimen of drugs, but side effects left her with blurred vision, sleep problems and burning sensations in her arms and legs. Mbatudde could barely walk, but she couldn’t afford a procedure to correct her heart, let alone find a doctor to do it.

Then, in February, a fellow school principal, Brother Peter Kakooza, asked for help from Brother Francis Blouin, a longtime friend from Maine who was visiting Uganda as a guest instructor at a teachers preparatory school.

When he returned to Maine in March, Blouin, who belongs to the Brothers of Christian Instruction, contacted Maine Medical Center in Portland. The hospital and Dr. John Love, an attending cardiologist who specializes in electrophysiology, agreed to provide services worth about $13,000 – for free.

With the help of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ office, Mbatudde obtained a visa in July. But she still needed to pay for a $2,000 round-trip airplane ticket.

Family, friends and colleagues raised funds. She sold several goats, then her three-bedroom house.

After a grand send-off by students at her school, Mbatudde flew into Boston in late July. She split her time between the Brothers of Christian Instruction and Christian groups throughout southern Maine, captivating everyone with her frankness, sense of humor and strong faith in God.

At her first meeting with Love, the cardiologist confirmed that Mbatudde had Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome and deemed her a good candidate for catheter ablation. He performed the procedure on Aug. 21, inserting a thin, coated wire into a vein and moving it toward her heart.

Watching video pictures of her heart, Love located the problem area, then cauterized the muscle fibers around it.

“You can actually watch the monitor go from abnormal to normal,” Love said. “In a flash, it went away.”

Mbatudde left the hospital, feeling wonderful. “Now, I have hope that I’ll be living many more years than before,” said Mbatudde, whose last checkup with Love was on Wednesday.

AP-ES-09-11-03 0217EDT



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