Elvis was the first to be operated. Born with heart disease, Elvis had scarce hopes for survival in his own country – Zimbabwe. In 2005, 8 years old, he made the trip to Italy full of hope: destination Sant’Orsola-Malpighi Hospital in Bologna. A team of specialized surgeons was waiting for him at the pediatric unit of cardiology. The operation was successful and Elvis was saved. After a few weeks rest in hospital, he returned to Zimbabwe.

Nine years later, in June 2014, the photographer Giovanni Diffidenti left for Zimbabwe: his aim was to meet Elvis, now 17, and other children like him born with heart disease and saved/rescued due to the intervention of the cardiology unit in Italy. To meet them, Diffidenti traveled north from Harare, and later towards the south.

There’s Diana, who poses in her school uniform in front of the school. Christopher in front of a car, posing as a rapper. Evidence, staying with a friend of her father’s because her own village is 40 km away. Ruth, hugging a teddy bear. Salvador, having fun doing cartwheels on the grass with a friend.

Many of these children need regular medical check-ups and follow-ups or further operations. Zimbabwe is certainly not an “easy” Country: an ex colony of Great Britain, with an economic and social development marked by the ill-fated consequences of the Mugabe regime. Life expectancy is one of the lowest in the world (51 years of age).

But even though the conditions of life are hard, the sixteen images by Diffidenti transmit a serenity that shows in the facial expressions and smiles. These children were once quite sick before their operation, without energy and destined to slowly die. Now they live a normal childhood and adolescence. Happy to have their photograph taken, revealing something personal of their character, tastes and sometimes their dreams.

 

From 2005 up until today, the “Save the Children’s Heart” program of the “Mission Bambini” Foundation (www.missionbambini.org) has rescued more than one thousand children with heart disease from poor countries. This objective has been attained thanks to the interventions carried out in Italy, as well as the work of voluntary Italian doctors organized abroad and equipment and machinery donated to local hospitals. In Zimbabwe the Foundation collaborates with the “Luisa Guidotti” Hospital situated in Mutoko (200km east of the capital Harare) led by the Italian doctor Maria Elena Pesaresi, a non-religious missionary in Africa.

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01/05

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Elvis Antonio Nashu, 17 years old, portrayed in front of an ex tobacco kiln at his village in Maramba, Murewa district. Operated in September 2005 at the Sant’Orsola-Malpighi Hospital in Bologna. Congenital heart disease, Tetralogy of Fallot. Initially follow up every two years, but currently once a year from 2012. While the operation was successful, Elvis suffers from respiratory failure, which needs to be kept under control for at least four to five years. An orphan, when he goes back home he stays with his grandmother and two maternal aunts. He lives in a very isolated village. He sleeps in a room also used as a granary.

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Tadiwa Kataza, 10 years old, in his bedroom shared with his twin brother Takudzwa, Chinhoyi city. Operated in 2011 at the Sant’Orsola-Malpighi Hospital in Bologna (where he stayed a total of seven months, including 2012). Congenital heart disease, Tetralogy of Fallot. Operated in 2012 at the Ceccharini Hospital, Riccione for congenital bilateral cataract. Operated in 2012 at the Infermi Hospital, Rimini, for Hypospadia. Time spent in Italy varies according to the complexity of the heart disease and other illnesses. Tadiwa lost a year of school. All three problems were resolved successfully. Once a year, he returns to the Luisa Guidotti Hospital for follow-ups on his heart and eyes.

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Christopher Chirinda, 7 years old, outside his house in the city of Ruwa. Operated in 2007 while only four months old at the Sant’Orsola-Malpighi Hospital in Bologna. Congenital heart disease, Tetralogy of Fallot. Follow up every three years. If there are no complications in the next visit, he won’t need further check-ups.

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Godfrey Nyumbu, 17 years old, in the village of Kachara, Mudzi District. The last of eight children. School is about one kilometre from home. Operated in March 2013 ain the Sant’Orsola-Malpighi Hospital of Bologna. Congenital cardiopathy. Tetralogy of Fallot (4 months in Italy). Currently he has one follow-up per year. Next year it will probably be every second year. Re-integration after the trip to Italy was problematic. He had difficulty in readjusting.

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Salvador Bones, 7 years old, in Harare. Doing cartwheels with his brother Sinclair. Operated in 2011 at the Sant’Orsola-Malpighi Hospital in Bologna (4 months in Italy). Congenital cardiopathy. Tetralogy of Fallot. Follow up every two years. At four years old he was unable to walk because he had such a low saturation of oxygen that he could hardly move. Currently both parents are unemployed. They are supported economically by the grandmother.

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