Success Stories

Who is Herbie helping?

Soyam Takele, Ethiopia

Meet Our Hero: Soyam Takele

Child’s condition: Tracheo-esophageal fistula secondary to ingestion of a coin
Age: 5 (September 25, 2007)

“SickKids is a wonderful and amazing place. The people here are the reason my daughter is alive today. Thank you to each and everyone who touched our lives. We will always remember you.” – Wondmagegnehu Takele, Soyam’s Father

Soyam Takele was born on September 27, 2005 in Addis, Ethiopia. She was born perfectly healthy and considered a gift to her family as she was the only girl among four children.

When Soyam was three years of age she was playing and accidently swallowed a coin. Her parents immediately took her to their local doctor who assured the family that the coin would come out via a bowel movement.

The family monitored Soyam and when they saw no sign of the coin after several days they became concerned and returned to the doctor. X-rays were taken but the coin still could not be located. Soyam was sent home and within days she began coughing and experienced difficulty breathing. Once again the family visited their doctor and they were prescribed medication. When this did not help, the family was referred to a larger hospital in Ethiopia. It was here that doctors discovered the coin was still embedded in Soyam’s upper chest and it had caused immense damage to her esophagus and trachea, creating a communication (fistula) between her windpipe (trachea) and esophagus.

The coin was removed with difficulty with a rigid esophagoscope but the damage was so severe that Soyam’s life was in danger. With this tracheo-esophageal fistula whenever Soyam drank liquids or ate food, some of the liquids of food went into her airway and lungs. This caused chronic infections in her lungs and affected her breathing.

Soyam continued to experience trouble breathing and although she was on continuous antibiotics, doctors told the family that nothing else could be done for her. The surgeon, who removed the coin from Soyam, knew of a doctor from SickKids who was currently in Ethiopia and suggested the family meet with him.

The Takele’s were introduced to Dr. Ted Gerstle from SickKids who reviewed her case and understood the complexity of her condition. He knew he could help her but he did not have the medical equipment available in Ethiopia so he referred the family to the Herbie Fund at SickKids.

A short while later, Soyam and Dr. Gerstle were reunited in Toronto and Soyam was scheduled for a life-saving surgery. The procedure was complex and there was some risks involved but without surgery Soyam’s condition would ultimately be fatal.

Dr. Gerstle and his team of experts performed a successful surgery and were able to mend the damage caused by the coin, repairing the communication between the trachea and the esophagus. Soyam required follow-up care and remained at SickKids for several weeks while she recovered.

Today, Soyam is a bright and happy child. She loves her dolls and she is all smiles all the time. Her cough has dramatically improved, she is able to eat without food and drink going into her lungs and she will be able to return home later this month.