Late in the evening on November 16th, a Babyheart team comprising of 15 members from six different countries arrived in Voronezh, Russia to heal the hearts of their children with congenital heart defects. With the support from our longtime collaborating charities, Russian Gift of Life USA and Gift of Life, Inc., our team was introduced to our future companions, the local pediatric cardiac team at Voronezh Regional Hospital.
Once introductions were made, both teams broke off to become closer acquainted in their designated areas, the operating room and the immediate care unit. Longtime volunteer, Babyheart cardiologist, Dr. Robert Arnold, began performing echocardiograms and evaluating patients, explaining his findings to the local cardiologists. Once our patients’ defects were revealed, a tentative surgical schedule was comprised and the heart healing began!
In the past year, the local pediatric cardiac team has performed close to 38 pediatric heart surgeries utilizing heart-lung bypass, with nearly twice as many closed heart surgeries. On the first day, in order to further assess their skill sets, the local team performed two successful open-heart operations. The Babyheart team oversaw the operations, assisting in times of need and evaluating the local team’s skills and procedures. The first, a local boy by the name of Ignat, suffered from a common, yet severe CHD known as an atrial septal defect where the atrial septum failed to form a complete partition between his heart’s two upper chambers. Without a corrective operation, Ignat’s heart would struggle as his red and blue blood mixes. The opening in his atrial septum would need to be closed to prevent any future damage to his heart. The risk is that Ignat is already over a year old and his heart has wreaked the damage from his defect. Although this procedure is common, the team will have to tread carefully.
Fortunately, Ignat’s surgery was a success! He arrived in the ICU from the OR with a beautiful cross from his mother, a piece of hope to watch over him. When his mother arrived to see him for the first time since his operation, she broke into tears of relief. He was sleeping with a small smile on his face. After reciting several prayers, she stroked his tiny hand while he slept on peacefully. As in all cases with children, our patients never fail to amaze us in their ability to resiliently spring back into life. Ignat is no exception. Just one day post open-heart surgery, he was up and walking. He left the ICU the next morning to be reunited with his mother in the ward. Afterwards, his mother thanked the team and said, “He must have a lucky star over him to have you here at the same time of his surgery.”
While Ignat leaves the ICU, our team preps for another case, one that has not been performed before by the local team, a defect called cor triatriatum, where one of the heart’s atriums is subdivided by a thin membrane, resulting in 3 atrial chambers. After a long hug and kiss from his mother, one and a half year old Timothy, is off to be prepped for surgery. He is rightfully, anxious and scared, but quickly drifts off into sleep from the anesthesia. Under the watchful eyes of the eager local team, Babyheart Founder and Medical Director, Dr. William Novick, scrubs in and begins the operation. Afterwards, with steady hands, the procedure is completed and Timothy is carefully returned to the ICU.
His mother watches him while he sleeps, but afraid that he will cry and strain himself if he sees her, she hides while he is awake. This is no easy task though, as she stands by, with a door dividing her from her son. Each time a team member walks by, she asks if he is sleeping so she can peek in. The following morning, Timothy is up and walking, out of the ICU and onto the ward with his mother. The moment they make eye contact, both are in tears. She steadily holds him, with obvious relief on her face. Later, she advises the team that she has been nervously waiting for him to receive this operation for several months and the relief she feels now, to have her son back and healthy, is irreplaceable.
Saad is a 10 year old boy who was born with a hole in his heart that permits his deoxygenated and oxygenated blood to mix, placing immense strain on his heart and preventing his body from receiving much needed oxygen. Babyheart guest blogger and photographer, Kevin Whitcomb, (who is also medically-trained) had the opportunity to meet Saad during our mission to Benghazi, Libya. Here, he recounts his moments with this remarkable child who has overcome so many odds, as he fights for his life due to his heart defect and escape a brutal civil war in Syria.
You’d never guess by looking at him and his ever-present smile, but Saad has had tragedy piled on tragedy in his young life.
Even though he received surgery in Libya, he’s actually a recent refugee from war-torn Syria. He and his family came to Benghazi a little over 6 months ago and have been trying to make a life in a place that’s better than what they left.
On the plus side, Saad was able to get the hole in his heart fixed by our Babyheart team in Benghazi.
On October 30th, the morning of his procedure, Saad was looked over by Babyheart ICU nurse, Libby and local Libyan nurse, Saddam. He wanted to hear his own heart so Saddam hooked him up and then Libby let him take a listen. This was actually good practice for Saad because he wants to be a doctor when he grows up!
Still smiling, Saad was brought into the theater and prepped for surgery. Babyheart scrub nurse, Vicha helped entertain Saad while Babyheart anesthesiologist, Suzana prepared him for surgery.
Saad’s operation was a success. The hole in his heart was patched up and he left the operating room to recover in the ICU. Within hours of his operation, Saad was awake, smiling and playing a game with Babyheart ICU nurse, Libby!
Unfortunately, like so many children in the world, his repair came too late to avoid damaging his heart and now he’ll have to have another operation in the future. The sad truth is that if there was a pediatric cardiac surgical program in Syria years ago, Saad could have had his heart fixed and avoided the additional damage.
ICHF has held 5 missions in Benghazi, Libya and has held missions in 30 countries providing over 6,600 operations. Now, we have started a year long program in Libya to heal hearts and train the local staff in pediatric cardiac care! In a few years, when Saad’s ready for his next surgery, he will be operated on solely by the Libyan surgeons being trained now.
Before leaving the hospital, Saad had a few things he wanted to tell the world and the Babyheart team. To hear what Saad had to say, click on the following video link here.
If you ever wonder if your donations are going to a good cause, just look into Saad’s eyes and know you’re making a difference!
Guest Blogger and Photographer
Dania is an amazing little girl who suffers from a severe heart defect in her aortic valve known as aortic stenosis. The aorta is the main artery carrying blood out of the heart. Because Dania’s aortic valve was abnormally narrow, blood could not flow easily out of her heart to her body and brain. Dania had her heart repaired last week by our team in Benghazi, Libya. On the night of October 18th, Dania had to have an emergency reoperation. Below is a recount of the life-altering collaboration of our Babyheart team and the local team from Babyheart PICU nurse, Elizabeth:
“On Friday, we had to emergently open the chest of our 3 year old aortic stenosis repair from that day. One minute Dania was smiling and playing with me and literally the next second she’s was limp and grey.
The local surgeon, Dr. Wejdan, was in the hospital at the time. From Tripoli, Dr. Wejdan has come to Benghazi to receive training from our Babyheart team. Dr. Wejdan quickly performed a resuscitation. Meds, volume…she’s back, crying but good vital signs. We speculate that maybe she just kinked her IV. Then Dania goes limp and grey again. Her blood pressure is very low. That’s when we notice her chest tube drain is full of fresh blood, but it isn’t bright red blood like she blew the sutures on her new aortic patch. It’s dark and coming fast.
Dr. Wejdan produces a kit to crack the chest and before I had even finished drawing up another set of code medications, she’s opened Dania chest and is asking for suction. It got very chaotic for a few moments. The first suction head suddenly quits working, the second doesn’t have a collection container and we suck blood straight into the central wall suction system, and our unit’s portable suction also suddenly quits working. Without suction, the local surgeon can’t see anything in the flooded chest cavity. One of the local nurses runs to the adult ICU next door and grabs their portable suction machine. Babyheart Founder and surgeon, Dr. William Novick, has rushed to return to the hospital and has scrubbed in to assist while I’m digging underneath the surgical drapes to set up a med and fluid administration line. The local nurses are organizing supplies for the surgeon, drawing up extra medications while the doctor is organizing a blood transfusion. They did great!
They get the suction, I get my lines straight and it’s a tense one and a half hours of trying to repair the hole in Dania’s superior vena cava where her suture came out. The suture line from where they had connected the bypass machine in surgery had blown allowing all her venous return to just dump into her chest cavity instead of going to the heart.
Now, she really needs a blood transfusion. We’ve already over hemo-diluted what little blood she had left with normal saline. About an hour in, we lose the blood pressure. There’s no heart rate. The surgeon is doing cardiac massage and my epinephrine and atropine doses do nothing. At the start of this, we had sent the family off to the hospital blood bank to donate. That was over an hour ago. A very long five minutes pass. I can see the
patients little foot poking out from under the surgical drape and it is so very, very pale.
At what seems like the very last moment, the blood arrives.
I connect it and we pour it into her. Almost instantly her heart rate comes back. Slow at first and then strong. Blood pressure is back too. It takes just a few more minutes for the surgeon to finish repairing the offending hole. After another half hour of trying to get the needed sutures and chest closure material, she’s finally done. She is alive.”
Dania had her breathing tube removed 38 hours later and quickly left the ICU. Dania has charmed our team and the local staff. She would come down to the ICU multiples times a day, just to visit everyone. Thanks to the quick response from our Babyheart team and the local team, she recovered wonderfully and was discharged from the hospital last Saturday, October 26th. Babyheart PICU nurse, Randa, summed up the impact of our work in a few sentences, “Dania is the reason I work with kids….they are so resilient! No way would an adult ever recover from what she has been through in such a short time. Just 5 days ago she was having her chest opened up in the ICU and almost died! It’s truly amazing and inspiring. When someone tells me, “oh it must be so sad to work with kids doing what you do,” I tell them about kids like Dania.”
On October 19th, 2013, ICHF medical volunteers arrived in Tegucigalpa, Honduras with one mission in mind: curing as many children of their congenital heart defects as possible in three-weeks-time.
Grecia Maria Lanza is a six-year-old, beautiful little girl, who received her heart surgery on October 21st. Grecia was diagnosed with a heart defect at the age of two-months-old and stayed in the hospital for one month as doctors informed her parents of her heart murmur. She loves to dance and paint, but would often find herself tired and out of breath. Little Grecia’s heart would also begin beating abnormally rapid, which made her feel very uncomfortable. Doctors advised Grecia’s family to wait until she was four-years-old to see if the hole in her heart would close naturally. Unfortunately, it did not, and for two years she has been waiting for help.
Her mother was concerned that the current state of healthcare in Honduras was not advanced enough to risk having her surgery here. She was also advised that it would cost much more money than they have.
Grecia was the first patient on ICHF’s surgical schedule. She received an ASD repair by ICHF surgeon, Dr. Kathleen Fenton, who repaired her heart with a pericardial patch. This patch is actually taken from within the heart, and is used to close the hole that allows oxygenated and non-oxygenated blood to cross over into different chambers of the heart.
Grecia is shown here after only one day post-surgery. ICHF has honed a Fast Track system that allows children to recover very quickly after their operation. Little Grecia was smiling as she left the ICU, and was discharged the next day.
This pretty little girl will now have the opportunity to live a normal life. Her family is very grateful for our team’s ability to come and perform these types of surgeries in complex environments. Grecia said that she hopes to grow up and become a doctor so that she can help others, similar to how she has been helped. Her mother says that they are very fortunate for the help of ICHF, as there is a lack of highly trained cardiovascular doctors in Honduras.
Thanks to the support of our donors and volunteers, Grecia left the hospital on October 24th.
After a six hour flight from the headquarters of ICHF in Memphis, TN, the plane touches down in the mountainous terrain of Honduras. The remnants of a wrecked flight still lie at the end of the infamous runway of Tegucigalpa’s international airport. The air smells of smoke and citrus, as members of our Babyheart team make their way from the airport to the hotel to rest before the start of another mission in Honduras, at the Hospital de Tórax.
Volunteers from all parts of the world mingle with each other in the lobby, as their anxiousness begins to fade from the calming effect the professionalism and leadership of veteran volunteers. Most ICHF trips adjourn in two weeks, but this trip is unique in that it will be a three-week-long mission in Tegucigalpa.
The highly trained team, led by cardiovascular surgeons, Dr. Kathleen Fenton and Dr. Umar Boston, hope to perform roughly 25 vastly different heart surgeries during our stay in Tegucigalpa. Coordination of the trip is helped by the organization, Manos Ayudando a Honduras, whose leader, Ronald Roll, plays a very critical part in bringing ICHF to Honduras. His family supports the medical volunteers by providing supplies, transportation, daily lunches, and communication for the team. This allows our volunteers to fully focus on our ultimate goal: Providing life saving surgeries to children with congenital heart defects. Also joining us on this mission is Connie Fox, a representative from the Mighty Oakes Foundation, based in St. Louis, Missouri.
As the mission sets course and the inspiring movement of diverse team members working together unfolds, Nurse Coordinator and Educator, Andrea Yuel, outlines the protocols of the mission and explains the procedures and etiquette in the unique environment of Hospital de Tórax, where conditions are less than optimal. Just outside the hospital’s gate lies a thriving, yet impoverished city, where healthcare is decades behind the western world in terms of pediatric cardiac surgery. Fortunately, our highly trained humanitarian medical volunteers are used to extreme conditions. ICHF has completed successful missions, just this year, in countries such as Libya, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia. Literally, we are flying into these areas and performing life-saving operations as efficiently and resourcefully as possible in such little time.
The early morning sun rises, and hundreds of colorful houses glisten in the mountains, as we make our way to the hospital, where families wait through the night, all hoping their children will be seen and put on our surgery schedule for this mission. Unfortunately, only a fraction of them will be seen during this trip. Some children will be put down for immediate surgery. Others will have to wait for the next mission in Honduras, where they will again hope to receive a free life saving surgery from International Children’s Heart Foundation. The children are cycled through evaluations with our pediatrician and cardiologist. Parents line the halls, eagerly hoping their child will be fortunate enough to receive desperately needed surgery.
There is tension in the air as the mission goes into full effect, as we remember that these children have absolutely no other options. Most have traveled with little money for hours to Tegucigalpa, which isn’t an easy task. As ICHF team member, Aspen Mueller says, “While we cannot promise miracles, we can always promise hope.”
By the time International Children’s Heart Foundation departs Tegucigalpa, Honduras, hope will fill the hearts of numerous families that their child will have the chance of living a normal life. ICHF promises hope to families regardless of gender, religion, income, race, or country.
It is a rare moment in life when you get to see so many selfless people come together to help others. ICHF is honored to be an organization that hosts moments like these in 45 missions this year alone. For the past 20 years, ICHF has held missions where experts in pediatric cardiac care donate their time, money and skills to save the lives of children worldwide from congenital heart disease. These experts set aside much deserved time off from their careers to attend our missions and heal the hearts of children in need. Below is an excerpt from our guest blogger Babyheart PICU Nurse Educator and Coordinator, Farzana Shah, who has generously aided our missions for the past year:
“I heard of ICHF through a flyer in the ICU that I work at in Philadelphia…it’s like saying you met your future husband at the bar…not exactly romantic, but that was the seed. I did some research and heard only good things about Babyheart. I saw how many people are helped by this one organization and I was hooked. I had to learn more. So, I completed the online volunteer registration form and scheduled my first trip with ICHF to Najaf, Iraq in September 2012.” (During this mission, with the help of a team of volunteers including Farzana, we healed the hearts of 14 children with CHD’s. Farzana has now volunteered on five of our Babyheart missions).”
During her 4th Babyheart mission (our 14th mission to Guayaquil, Ecuador), Farzana helped save the life of a 5 year old boy named Ricardo. Ricardo suffered from a complex heart defect known as tetralogy of Fallot which is characterized by the combination of four CHD’s:
1. Pulmonary valve stenosis, due to the absence of his pulmonary valve, Ricardo’s pulmonary artery is abnormally narrow impeding blood flow from his right ventricle to his lungs.
2. Ventricular septal defect, resulting from the hole between Ricardo’s two ventricles permitting oxygen-poor blood from the right ventricle to mix with oxygen-rich blood from the left.
3. Right ventricular hypertrophy, characterized by a thickening and enlargement of the muscles of Ricardo’s right ventricles.
4. Overriding aorta, where the main artery exiting his left ventricle appears at the opening of both his left and right ventricles, permitting oxygen-poor blood to flow through the VSD into his aorta.
Because of the severity of Ricardo’s defect, he suffer from “blue” spells where he would turn blue due to the lack of blood permitted to the lungs preventing oxygen to reach his body. Without a corrective operation, the lack of oxygen would not only damage Ricardo’s heart, but also his brain.
Ricardo would need to receive multiple operations. When Ricardo was 2, his heart was in such bad condition, Babyheart Founder Dr. William Novick had to perform a preliminary procedure to prepare him for his future operations. Ricardo received two more corrective procedures this year on July 30th from Babyheart surgeons, Dr. Marcelo Cardarelli and Dr. David Maldonado Gonzalez. He will come back early next year to be evaluated for his next operation which will hopefully be his last.
Ricardo came to visit our team during our 15th mission to Guayaquil this past September. While playing his all-time favorite, Angry Birds, on Farzana’s phone, she recounted her passion for helping these children:
“I can’t say enough about the positive experiences that I have had working with ICHF. With each good and sad situation, you learn to bring the best care possible to these children while adapting to different environments and dealing with the lack of resources, while also ensuring that you are supportive to the family and caring for them as well. Seeing Ricardo come back this mission, and looking like a completely new child; inquisitive, smiling, happy- I could have kissed his cheeks till they turned red and it still wouldn’t have been enough to show how happy I am to know he is doing well.
My experience with ICHF has given me so much growth, both personally and professionally. The ability to be flexible and open to learning has made me a stronger, better nurse. I have worked with some of the most talented people that I would have never had the opportunity to meet if it wasn’t for ICHF and the friendships I have made are incredible.
These trips are like little the wonders of the world…you meet everyone the first Sunday of the trip, some familiar faces, some are first timers, all from different walks of life, and everyone clicks. We find a rhythm and our common goal: to help…help the children, help the families, help our local colleagues learn, help make the lives of those people we come across a little better. When you are asked by someone “how long have you all worked together?” They don’t believe it when you say, “3-4 days”. It’s unexplainable even to me still, the teamwork and dedication that happens in just two weeks with so many variables- a relationship that would take years to build, comes together in just days.
If I could thank each donor and sponsor for making it possible for me and others alike, who have this passion to breakdown social and economic walls in order to provide a child a chance at life; it could only be expressed by looking at Ricardo, and seeing that he has a chance, because of them.”
Over 3 million children are born with heart defects each year. Every day, ICHF receives requests for help from families of children with congenital heart defects all over the world. These families are struggling to find hope in a life where they are told there is none.
This is a story of hope revitalized through a group of people from multiple countries, coming together to heal hearts, save lives and renew hope.
ICHF has aided the families of children with CHD’s in Ecuador thanks to the help of several collaborating charities and numerous organizations and individuals.
Corazones Guerreros Unidos (Heart Warriors United), a Facebook support group for Latin American families of children with CHD’s, along with Fundación El Cielo Para los Niños (Heaven for Children Foundation), a charity dedicated to orphaned children, have communicated requests from numerous families in Ecuador to ICHF.
In February, Corazones Guerreros Unidos contacted us with a letter from a desperate mother of a little girl named Elizabeth who lives in Loja, Ecuador with a rare heart defect. Elizabeth’s mother, Tania, heard about ICHF through an article on another Ecuadorian patient, Paulita, who received a life-saving operation from our team in October 2012. With the support of Paulita’s mother, a woman who had experienced the same anguish as Tonia now finds herself in, Tonia wrote a letter to ICHF in hopes that our team could save her little girl. The following is an excerpt from her letter:
“I know you to be a people of great heart and you have helped restore hope to many children who have the will to live. I ask you with all my heart to help me with my girl. I will have great suffering and emptiness in my life if I lose her and she is the light that illuminates our lives with strength and love. She gives me the courage to live each day.”
After reviewing Elizabeth’s records, Babyheart Founder and Medical Director, Dr. William Novick noted that Elizabeth would need another test to clarify the characteristics of her defect. With the help of Fundación El Cielo Para los Niños and the team at the local hospital, Elizabeth was scheduled to receive further testing from the Hospital del Niño Dr. Francisco de Ycaza Bustamante in Guayaquil, Ecuador in March.
It was quickly noted that Elizabeth did indeed suffer from a rare heart defect known as Ebstein’s anomaly in which the heart’s tricuspid valve — the valve between the chambers on the right side of the heart — does not work properly. When this valve fails to operate, it causes a backup of blood into the lungs and insufficient oxygenated blood flow to the body. As with most CHD’s, children with this defect should receive a corrective operation within their first year of life. Sadly, in underdeveloped countries like Ecuador, the skills and technology needed to repair these defects are not readily available.
Amazingly, Elizabeth has survived the past 4 years with this rare defect wreaking havoc on her lungs and heart. As Elizabeth grew older, due to the severity of her defect, her lungs and other vital organs began to struggle. Elizabeth would be hospitalized frequently due to severe cases of pneumonia. Without the proper amounts of oxygenated blood flow to her body, Elizabeth’s growth was stunted. She would struggle to breath, tire easily and her skin began to turn a bluish tint with her lips near purple.
After reviewing her evaluation, Dr. Novick determined that Elizabeth would need to receive a complex operation this year in order for her to survive. Thanks to the support of our generous donors, Elizabeth’s campaign for a heart repair ($2,500, a fraction of what it would cost to repair her heart in the U.S.) was achieved. Dr. Novick scheduled himself to perform her operation on September 30th during ICHF’s 15th mission to Guayaquil, Ecuador. He arrived in Guayaquil on September 29th, a day after completing our 3rd mission to Skopje, Macedonia. Elizabeth’s mother and father stayed by her side until she left them to go to the operating room. Dr. Novick advised them of the severity of their child’s defect and the complications that could occur during and after surgery. Letting their little girl go was difficult, but they knew this was her only chance. On the way to the OR, Babyheart Scrub Nurse, Jennifer, kept Elizabeth’s fears down by letting her take funny photos of herself with her phone. Once in the OR, the team was able to visually see the damage brought on by the little girl’s defect. Although Elizabeth’s left lung had completely collapsed, with assistance from Babyheart Surgeon, Dr. Humberto Rodriguez, the Babyheart team and the local team, Dr. Novick was able to perform a successful repair to her defect.
Once Elizabeth was returned to the ICU, Dr. Novick and Dr. Rodriguez met with Elizabeth’s parents to discuss her operation and plans for recovery. The road was rocky, but the surgery was a success and now we needed to ensure that she recovered quickly in the ICU. After numerous thanks to the doctors, Elizabeth’s parents all but sprinted to their little girl.
Because Elizabeth’s body had grown so weak from her defect, she struggled to recover in the ICU. Not only were her lungs in bad condition, her body was in a form of shock as it was not used to receiving the normal amounts of oxygenated blood it was receiving since the repair.
Although it took several days for Elizabeth to recover, under the watchful eyes of our Babyheart team, she slowly began to grow stronger. She walked just five days after her open heart surgery and left the ICU on Saturday, October 5th!
We are so happy to see this little girl triumph over all of the odds placed before her and to see the light of hope returned to her parent’s eyes.
We are thankful to all those that came together to make this happen. We are appreciative of the Ministry of Public Health, who sponsors our missions to Guayaquil. We are honored by our generous donors, who ensure that moments like these can happen, and by our selfless Babyheart volunteers, who constantly dedicate their time and skills to healing the hearts of children like Elizabeth. We are grateful for our collaborating charities, who ensure that these families are heard and cared for and for Clinica Guayaquil, who kindly donates their equipment to our team in times of need. We are glad to have the care of Hotel Oro Verde, who ensures that our team has a place to rest before returning to saving lives. We are proud of the local hospital’s team, who have overcome many odds to be able to perform such complex operations and most of all, we are humbled by the families and the children, who remind us every day why we are here: to bring renewed hope to life.
When Bruno was born in July with a severe defect known as infra-cardiac total anomalous pulmonary venous return, his parents were devastated to find out that their baby was suffering. The operation needed to correct their son’s defect had never been performed in Ecuador before. After being advised that babies with this particular defect had a very low survival rate, they began to look for other options. During this search, they heard of a group of specialist who hold missions in the city of Guayaquil to perform free heart surgeries on children with congenital heart defects.
As you can see in the photo, Bruno is pale and his skin has a bluish tint to it. This is because his defect does not allow his body to receive enough oxygenated blood. The pulmonary veins of the heart carry oxygenated blood from the lungs back to the heart to be pumped out to the body. Normally, these veins drain into the heart’s left atrium permitting oxygenated blood flow to the rest of the body.
In children like Bruno, the pulmonary veins connect to other veins and abnormally drain their blood into the heart’s right atrium. The right atrium should only receive deoxygenated blood coming back from the body and then permit this blood to flow to the lungs to be oxygenated. In TAPVR, the right atrium receives both the blue deoxygenated blood from the body and the red oxygenated blood from the lungs. Because of this, baby Bruno’s lungs were flooded with this abundant mixed blood flow causing him to struggle to breathe.
Due to the increased amount of pressure in the lungs and the lack of red blood flow to the body, babies with TAPVR need to undergo a corrective procedure immediately after birth. Bruno is 3 months old, way past the preferred time for a corrective operation. Medically, he should not be alive. Bruno has been hospitalized for the past 3 weeks. His parents, who have not left his side, only have one wish: that their son will be given a chance to live.
When our team arrived, we knew we had to act quickly in order to save Bruno. On September 26th, Babyheart surgeon Dr. Humberto Rodriguez Saldana performed Ecuador’s first infra-cardiac TAPVR repair. After the operation, as Bruno’s father stroked his son’s tiny feet (which have been deprived of oxygenated blood since birth), his father told our team that a couple of weeks ago he was crying out of fear of losing his child. Now, he is crying tears of joy. Joy for the hope that his child can grow up and live a normal life.
Although the surgery was a success, Bruno still had more to go through. Because of the abundant stress from his defect, his heart and lungs are weak. Bruno’s lungs are fragile and they need to maintain a stable pressure in order for him to survive.
It has been 5 days since Bruno’s operation and we are excited to tell you he is recovering wonderfully! Our team has been by his and his parent’s side, ensuring that he has the best care. When one of our volunteer nurses told Bruno’s parents their son was a miracle, his father turned to her and said, “He is a blessing”. This is why we are here. Although we can never guarantee miracles, we can try and we can always guarantee hope.
Lifetime with a Healthy Heart on the Horizon!
Ufuk is a Turkish name that means Horizon and Ufuk was part of ICHF’s inaugural medical mission to Macedonia and was the very fist arterial switch ever done in Macedonia. It was a complicated heart defect that required a difficult surgery that only ICHF’s Dr. Novick could perform. When the team left, Ufuk was still in the ICU with a wound infection but was recovering well and eating. He had his operation at 15 days of age, on March 28th by Dr Novick, and was 3.6kg at the time. He recently returned with his family from his hometown south of Skopje to see the next mission team and be evaluated. He came back to receive his ECHO by our Babyheart team and the local cardiologists. He is just over 6 months old, is a healthy 7.8kg and thriving and better than ever! Ufuk has a new life on the “horizon” with his new heart.
Frank Molly, ICHF ICU Coordinator and Clinical Educator, helped get us the news of Ufuk’s recovery.
Donation Already Saves Lives in Macedonia
Everyone knows the great work of Arkansas Children’s Hospital’s efforts to save lives at home but did you know they are active in saving lives abroad? By making a simple donation of equipment to the International Children’s Heart Foundation they are doing just that. Thanks to the collaboration of 2 biomedical engineers, Kevin Haralson, Director of Clinical Engineering /Biomed at ACH and Roy Morris, biomedical engineer for ICHF.
In order to provide the best technological care for their patients Kevin ordered a new heart-lung bypass machine for the hospital. He now had an older model on his hands that was still fully functional machine but had to be completely discarded. Kevin did not want to see it go to waste and he knew who to call, Roy Morris of ICHF. They both worked in the same field together in Little Rock when Roy was in the private sector. Now Roy works for Babyheart full time and has done an outstanding job of partnering with hospitals around the country to obtain equipment donations for medical missions. In this case he needed a heart lung bypass machine for a medical mission in the East European country of Macedonia. The function and purpose of this equipment is when an ICHF pediatric heart surgeon must stop the heart in order to operate on it. The child’s blood is then diverted and oxygenated via the heart lung bypass machine, operated by a perfusionist, thus keeping the child alive. These machines are expensive and very difficult to come by. Without this equipment the operations could not be performed. Children would have to remain on the waiting list for surgery and many young lives are put at risk, some will die. Then Arkansas Children’s Hospital came through with their donation and the mission could continue. Kevin Haralson facilitated the donation and ensured the equipment was in good working order. Then Roy got it shipped overseas to the operating room in a Skopje, Macedonia clinic, ready for surgery! The donated bypass machine was put to use by professional medical volunteer perfusionist, Swee Huang, and it has helped the mission in Macedonia already operate on, and save the lives of, over 30 children! According to Roy and Kevin, with proper maintenance this machine will last medical missions for at least another 5 years. With ICHF running 3 Babyheart missions per year, operating on 20 children per mission for another five years, this Arkansas Children’s Hospital donation will help save the lives of at least another 300 children!
Babyheart Team Gets to Work Before De-boarding Plane
On a flight to Kharkiv, Ukraine an older man that felt dizzy and disoriented. Then the man fainted and collapsed at the rear of the plane. Luckily, members of an ICHF Babyheart medical team were on board traveling to the next mission in Kharkiv. Dr. Marcelo Cardarelli, PICU Nurse, Roslyn Rivera, and Dr. Herwis quickly got up to help him. As many ICHF medical volunteers will tell you, you must travel well prepared on a medical mission. Roslyn carried a pulse oximetry & wrist blood pressure cuff that they used to check the man’s vitals. They discovered the man apparently had a history of low blood pressure and he appeared to have fainted due to that. He ended up being ok by the time they landed, and refused further medical attention. He walked off the plane himself & didn’t utilize the ambulance they called for him. All in a day’s work for a Babyheart team.
Elizabeth Set to Receive Heart Surgery
Elizabeth Torres’ mother submitted a request for assistance with the International Children’s Heart Foundation earlier this year to help her daughter receive surgery. She is from Ecuador, has been evaluated by a doctor and on a list for surgery but her defect is complicated. Only Dr. Novick has the ability to correct her defect, called an Ebstein Anomaly, a defect of the tricuspid valve which causes a backup of blood into the lungs and insufficient oxygenated bloodflow to the body. Elizabeth is suffering from this heart defect now and it will eventually take her life if we don’t act. Well, Babyheart donors and supporters did act! Via an online crowdfunding campaign on Gofundme.com, they contributed to her heart surgery, which is a fraction of what it would cost here in the United States. Now Dr. William Novick is on his way to a Babyheart mission in Guayaquil to perform the operation scheduled for Monday, Sep. 30th. We are happy for Elizabeth, her mother and family.
Below is an excerpt of a letter from Elizabeth’s mother.
….I know you to be a people of great heart and that have helped restore hope to many children who have all the will to live, I ask with all my heart to help me with my girl and cause I have great suffering and emptiness in my life if I lose her and it is the light that illuminates our lives with strength and love of life has given me the courage each day.
On a Friday evening in August at the historic Cadre building in downtown Memphis the International Children’s Heart Foundation (ICHF) honored some very special guests with the Tour of the World Donor and Volunteer Recognition Dinner. Awards of service were given to those who supported the global medical missions with donations of funds and time, helping build Babyheart into what it is today. ICHF used this occasion to celebrate 20 years of Babyheart medical missions going back to Dr. William Novick’s first mission in war-torn Croatia in 1993. Jonathan Smeltzer provided music for the night and an eclectic, global cuisine was served to guests. The authority on all things Memphis, Jimmy Ogle, came to emcee and shared some unique insight on the impact of Memphis’ medical history upon the world and how Babyheart will forever be an integral part of that special history.
A living part of that history came to speak and share her Babyheart story. At the age of 12 Dilya Cleveland had been suffering from her heart defect all her life in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan. Nobody could help her with her condition until her family learned that Dr. Novick and ICHF was coming to their country on a medical mission. Dr. Novick did for Dilya what no other doctor could– cure her heart and give her a normal life. Dilya shared her remarkable story of growing up to be an intelligent, vibrant member of society, obtaining a degree in electrical engineering. But she still had a desire to be a part of the medical community and emigrated to the US and became a registered nurse. Now she is looking to apply to medical school. She has already volunteered on a number of Babyheart medical missions, representing the full cycle of ICHF’s gift to the world. She closed her speech with a tearful hug of Dr. Novick, thanking him for giving the gift of life to her and so many others.
Seven awards were bestowed upon honorees throughout the night for their service to the world’s children suffering from congenital heart defects. Dr. Novick took the stage to present the first award to honoree, Donald W. Pemberton, who received the John B. Tigrett Visionary Award. Back before ICHF became a formal 501c3, Donald’s daughter was volunteering on Dr. Novick’s medical missions. Donald, a lifelong Memphis attorney, donated his time to help Dr. Novick obtain the charter he needed with the government to become a full fledged non-profit. The award’s namesake, John B. Tigrett was also instrumental in the early days of ICHF by serving as a conduit to Fred Smith of FedEx, who was so moved by Dr. Novick’s work that he pledged an annual allowance of free shipping of medical supplies and medicines to ICHF mission locations throughout the globe. This donation of freight services has lasted twenty years and Fred Smith was recognized by ICHF Executive Director, Terry Carter, with the Founder’s Award in Global Achievement in Healing Hearts. In his place to accept on behalf of Fred Smith and FedEx was Carl Asmus, Vice President, Global Supply Chain Solutions & Market Development.
Other honorees for the night, no less special and just as important to the ongoing life saving work of ICHF, was Rick Porter, representing the Gift of Life and certain Rotary clubs who have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars and saved countless young lives. Robert Cox of Alert Terminal Warehouse, received an award for donating vital warehouse space to ICHF supplies and equipment. Joe Wieronski, of ANF Architects, although absent due to an injury, received an award for his company’s dedication to ICHF’s fundraising events in the Memphis area. Companies such as Edwards Lifesciences and Medtronic were given awards for their longtime donations and support. Memphis’ own Mrs. Ann Jackson received an award for exemplary service to the Babyheart mission through her funds and time. She even opened up her home to ICHF volunteers stuffing envelopes for hours for direct mail campaigns. Her award was named for Sandra K. McMahan, who tirelessly worked for the foundation for over a decade as Administrative Director until she passed away after a long and heroic bout with cancer.
The evening closed with the world premiere of ICHF’s short documentary, “Babyheart,” shot during a mission in Kharkiv, Ukraine. After Dilya’s story, the film, and Terry Carter’s story of a heartfelt interaction with the father of a Babyheart patient on a recent mission trip to Ecuador, there was not a dry eye in the house. ICHF wishes to thank all our honorees, our special guests for the evening and all our valued donors and volunteers.
See links below for event coverage.
Dinner pics (by photographer Jo Teri)