After an international trip and two separate Babyheart missions it was finally Joshua’s day in surgery! He’d waited his whole life for his turn and now he finally had his CHD repaired by the Babyheart and Santiago team.
During his surgery his mother shared the saddest story about how Joshua came home really sick one day and told her he knew he was going to die. He told her that it was OK because when she got old, his brother could take care of her. She told the Babyheart team she didn’t react then but went into her bedroom and broke down. Can you imagine your child telling you that because they knew it was true? True no longer, Josh had his heart surgery and he is on his way back home with a healed heart!
To the people and organizations that have donated so much for this mission to happen, thank you. The world is a much better place with children like Joshua in it and all the other kids saved by the Babyheart teams with your generous help.
Their journey was long and arduous but they finally made it. 11 families traveled from their homeland of Guyana to a small, remote village called Jimani, Dominican Republic to have their hearts healed, at no cost, provided by the miracle workers of the Babyheart team. Located in the very center of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola on the DR side just across the border from Haiti, this place is at the crossroads of where some of the poorest of the poor in the Western hemisphere meet. However, this place, a former goat field, is where miracles began to happen. The Interntional Children’s Heart Foundation, in partnership with Chadasha Foundation and the Caribbean Children’s Foundation, came to this hospital to perform heart surgeries, free of charge on children long suffering from congenital heart defects. The first children to ever be seen and operated on at the Chadasha hospital, are from Guyana.
Nothing more than a goat field at one time, ICHF’s sister charity, the ministerial Chadasha Foundation, built a campus in Jimani that contains a medical clinic, a chapel and an orphanage. Immediately following the 2010 earthquake it became a major source of medical care for thousands of injured Haitians.
These families, already struggling with children suffering from heart defects, and the long waits to visit their general practitionaer doctor, then the specialist, then a pediatric cardiologist, if there was one near them, who could offer a decent evaluation. If they could just get on the plane and get to Jimani and have their hearts fixed. If it were only that simple. None of these families who are educated and work very hard for their livelihood can afford their children’s heart surgery, much less the plane ticket to Dominican Republic. Then ICHF and Chadasha leadership approached the Children’s Caribbean Foundation and they came through with the funds to fly the children and up to 2 parents (although many came with one parent) to the Dominican Republic. The flight in itself was a task. Their route started in Georgetown then to Trinidad, to Panama City, then to Santo Domingo where they boarded a Chadasha-provided bus for the 6 hour drive to Jimani. 3,000 total miles of travelling, all based on pure hope, the hope that somebody finally told their children YES to lifesaving heart surgery. The International Children’s Heart Foundation said yes, and made this little village in Jimani a place where hope truly comes to life.
The first child ever to receive heart surgery in the Chadasha hospital was Nevelian. or as her mother Natasha calls her, Valina. She just turned 14 years old and suffers from a superior sinus venosus defect, also known as an atrial septal defect (ASD), that caused a constant cough and shortness of breath. Her doctors in Guyana told Natasha her daughter would not live past 7. When asked what her mother hopes for she answered, “No hope, we know with Babyheart here Nevelian will be fine and grow up to be an adult.”
Following Nevelian were the successful surgeries of Marissa, Rayanne, Aaliyah, and Divine (pictured). All did great and are recovering well back home in Guyana. Marissa came with her mother, Kayanda who says Marissa was missing school due to her heart condition, in this case a Tetralogy of Fallot. We are happy Marissa is healed and will soon be getting back to school. She is so very intelligent and we are sure we will hear one day that she is going to become a doctor in her home country of Guyana. Rayanne survived with her heart defect, a double chambered RV with VSD, and it was heart-warming to see her mother doing her hair before surgery. Need to look good for your newly healed heart! Aaliyah came with her grandfather who was very grateful to the Babyheart team. “We give God thanks and praise,” he said, “to continue to help Babyheart on their mission!” Aaliyah’s case was unique. She suffered from a defect called Anamolous left coronary artery from the pulmonary artery, otherwise known as ALCAPA. ICHF founder, Dr. William Novick invented a procedure to correct this defect which he wrote about in a published article from 2009 (link below) that Dr. Kathleen Fenton used on this very trip! She writes about the surgery in this post below. The medical team members were fascinated with images from her surgery, included in this post. The show-stealing star of the trip was Divine Daniels, a beautiful little 15 month old girl who knows how to play to the camera. She was very feisty and energetic and a lot of fun to be around.
There was one special family that also made the long journey to Jimani, Mark and Sherry Jetto, with their son, Samuel. They named him Samuel for being such a strong and biblical name. A strong baby he was. He showed up diagnosed with a very large ASD and PDA. The team gravitated to him and he made everyone around him smile. The love this family showed resounded with the team and all the other families there. He had a long and difficult procedure. His father, Mark, would pass the time by making himself very useful around the hospital. He helped keep the area clean by mopping the hallways and helped biomedical engineer, Roy Morris, fix the lifting mechanism in one of the operating tables. Samuel’s operation was grueling. He continued to lose blood and Greg of Chadasha donated blood. Later that night Dr. Hernandez donated blood. PICU nurse Dusty said she relished the opportunity to actually draw blood from a pediatric cardiovascular surgeon! Samuel Jetto fought all night. Frank Molloy and PICU team were up with him every step of the way keeping him alive until his tiny heart could fight no more. It’s always terribly sad whenever a life is lost but more so when the Babyeart team lives with and spends significant time with the child and their family as with the Jettos in Jimani. Little Samuel Jetto will always be loved and never forgotten by Babyheart. Please click below for a tribute video in his honor and remembrance.
Samuel Tribute Video
The story of newly healed hearts is complete for the children mentioned above but for others, the story still continues. Some others were unable to received treatment in Jimani and had to wait. At this moment they are in Santiago, Dominican Republic with another Babyheart team. Always good on their word and never turning any children away this Babyheart team will operate on the other children from Guyana, such as Josh Hutson who has difficulty just walking up a flight of stairs. Their journey for a new heart is almost complete.
Guest blogger — Dr. Kathleen Fenton, Pediatric Cardiac Surgeon, Babyheart
Eleven-year-old Aaliyah did not fit the plan for our first trip to Jimani: her heart problem was not simple, and it was not common. She was born with anomalous left coronary from the pulmonary artery, commonly called “ALCAPA.” This heart problem is rare: it is seen only in somewhere between 1 in 30,000 and 1 in 300,000 children, and it is often lethal in early infancy. Somehow, though, Aaliyah had survived, even though most of the blood that entered through her normally-connected right coronary artery ran off out the left side into the lungs, without bringing oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle itself. This had caused her coronary arteries to all dilate to several times the normal size, and left her very thin and always tired. Because her echocardiogram indicated that hopefully no permanent damage had been done to her heart muscle, though, we thought she could be helped by an operation that is most commonly successful when performed in small infants.
At the time of her surgery, the left coronary artery was confirmed to be attached to the pulmonary artery rather than the aorta, where it should have been, and as we suspected from the echocardiogram it was coming off the side of the pulmonary artery far away from the aorta, much too far to simply take it off and reimplant it where it should be. The repair was successfully performed using a coronary artery extension technique developed and published by ICHF founder Dr. Novick, in which a ring of pulmonary artery is used to make a tube that allows the coronary artery to reach the aorta. Aaliyah came through the surgery with flying colors and was up walking early the next day!
Dr. Novick’s ALCAPA publication ALCAPA
The journey continues. Another Babyheart team is now in Dominican Republic, this time in Santiago to rendezvous with the Guyanan children still in need of surgery and to evaluate new Dominican children waiting to receive the gift of a newly healed heart. During Heart Awareness Month let us all pledge to support these kids in desperate need of new hearts. Don’t forget them and keep their hearts within yours. Please donate today by clicking the link to the right.
Check back with our blog in a couple weeks to learn about the outcomes of the children from Guyana and the other beautiful children from the Santiago mission with healed hearts!
When I think back to my childhood when I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I remember my answers changing with the seasons. In the second grade, the popular answer was a rock star. In the fourth grade, I wasn’t quite sure what I would be, but definitely, a teacher, a rodeo queen, and a dolphin trainer at Sea World were front-runners. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I knew I wanted to be a nurse. Some people, like Libyan Pediatric Cardiac Surgeon, Dr. Wegdan Abou Amer, have always known what they would be when they grew up. When she was 5 years old, Wegdan recalls a day her mother asked each of her 7 siblings and herself what he or she were going to be when they were older, and her mother said her response, without hesitation, was cardiac surgeon. Even when she was very young, she remembers being mesmerized and completely absorbed by anything to do with the heart. If there was a show on TV about the heart, she would stop and watch and listen to everything they were saying. By the age of 9, she could draw the heart anatomy and explain it’s circulation. She remembers her teachers asking her to come to the front of the class to draw it for them.
Wegdan comes from a hard-working, intelligent family of engineers, teachers, pharmacists, doctors and a veterinarian. So I guess you could say determination to succeed in life and in her career is simply in her genes. During her 3rd year of medical school, at the age of 21, she found her way into the operating room assisting Dr. Hassan, a cardiac surgeon in her hometown of Tripoli, who would later become a great mentor to her. She continued her work with Dr. Hassan throughout medical school and after graduation accepted a full-time position at Tripoli Medical Center. There she would continue to assist Dr. Hassan in his adult and pediatric cardiac cases, as well as provide post-op care to the patients in the ICU. Along with Dr. Hassan, Wegdan had the opportunity to travel to Benghazi twice and work with International Children’s Heart Foundation. It was then she learned about the plans for a year long program run by ICHF in Benghazi. After passing her General Surgery Boards, she was granted 1 year to train in her specialty of choice, and she made the decision to travel to Benghazi to learn pediatric cardiac surgery with ICHF. When I asked her why she wanted to be a part of this program, she told me “because the work they do is serious, fast, there’s no wasting time, and it’s only pediatrics.”
Dr. Rodrigo Soto, an ICHF surgeon, has been the lead surgeon for the majority of the program up to this point working with Wegdan. In his words, Wegdan is, “a dedicated, hard-working and skilled young surgeon who I believe will be a leading pediatric cardiac surgeon in Libya in the years to come.” Wegdan has also found great value in Dr. Soto’s leadership as well. “I like that his work is first,” she said. ”Dr. Rodrigo always wants to be perfect, and I like this too. In the OR, he is laughing and there is no tension. I learn more than just the skills in surgery, but also how to be a leader in the OR. I wish that we would work together longer. I wish that we would work together forever.” Along with the surgical skills she is gaining from Dr. Soto, she is also learning to work with the cardiologists to decide the correct surgical repair for her patients, and also about ICU management. “I hope that I can operate independently and make good decisions regarding cases and manage situations as a good team leader,” she said. Listening to her speak, it is evident that she has found a life altering opportunity in the ICHF program in Libya, and she is soaking every bit of it up.
Despite Wegdan’s impeccable work ethic, her desire to learn, and her natural abilities as a surgeon, she was missing one of the most important tools required to be a successful pediatric cardiac surgeon, a pair of loupes. Surgical loupes are special magnifying glasses worn by surgeons that allow them to see the structures of the heart better and allow them to place each stitch in a precise location. This is especially important in pediatric cardiac surgery when the patient can be as small as 2 kilograms. They are also essential to perform complex cases like arterial switches, which she yearns to do, that require delicate work with the miniscule coronary arteries on neonatal babies. Up to this point, she has been extremely limited in the type of cases she can perform independently because she was unable to see what she needed to see. It needed to be a simple operation, such as an ASD closure or PDA ligation, and it needed to be on a child that was large enough for her to see what she was doing with her naked eye. Because of her commitment to the program, her enthusiasm to learn, and the promising future she holds, Dr. Soto, on behalf of ICHF, started the January surgical block by presenting Wegdan with a brand new pair of surgical loupes. This gift will increase her learning curve tremendously, and will ultimately change the work she is able to do as a surgeon. It is a gift not just for this year, but also for her career. Most surgeons operate with the same pair of loupes their entire career. Dr. Soto shared that he has been using the same loupes for 18 years and, when he has tried to change to new ones, he always goes back to the old ones because they “just aren’t the same.” With the new loupes, “she will be more precise in her work and start performing surgery on smaller kids where loupes are essential,” says Dr. Soto. Wegdan was surprised and extremely grateful for the generous gift. For 2 days, we would find her sitting in the common room reading her textbook while wearing the loupes. This is a technique to train your eyes and learn how to focus the loupes. This week, Wegdan had the opportunity to wear her new loupes in surgery, and with a huge smile on her face, she said, “for the first time, I see the things clear and near to me.”
Wegdan has relocated to Benghazi for the year, and she has become a permanent fixture with the ICHF family in Benghazi. When she’s not working, you can find her sharing meals with the team or challenging Dr. Soto to a game of Ping-Pong. She is not only appreciated for her work in the operating room, but she is an asset to the entire team from cardiology to anesthesiology to intensive care. She is always available to help us at any time, day or night, whether it be to translate for us, to help us navigate the hospital, or to send someone out to the store for us. She has been a joy to get to know. Not only is she a promising surgeon, she is also a caring, compassionate woman who is full of energy and full of life.
We are finished for the year. Yep, ICHF’s work is complete for a few days as we all share time with our family and friends for the holidays. Today is December 21stand our teams in Benghazi, Libya and Nasiriyah, Iraq completed their operative schedule in the early evening. Over the last two weeks we have worked hard to provide the ultimate Christmas gift: new hearts to as many children as possible. It has been a mix of joy, sadness, frustration and, ultimately, relief.
When I started ICHF in April of 1993 I had no idea where we would end up. I made my first Christmas trip to Croatia many years ago. I was called by the local intensivist, who interestingly had a name close to mine, Novak, and of course he too was big and blond (I was too before I turned gray and lost most of my hair). Novak asked me to fly urgently to Zagreb to operate on his close childhood friend’s newborn child. It was about 10 days before Christmas and I was on administrative duty, so of course I caught the next available flight to Zagreb.
I found her in the pediatric intensive care unit on an artificial ventilator. She was gray like the weather outside. She was tiny and not moving, resembling a doll more than a newborn baby girl. The local cardiologists were not sure if she had a relatively simple defect called patent ductus arteriosus and believed the reason she needed the ventilator was because she had contracted a viral infection in the brief time between her birth and emergency re-admission to the hospital 4 weeks before, or if she had a more complex problem. Her parents were plastered to the large window that opened into the public hall, frantic, yet hopeful. The local pediatric cardiologists were happy I had made a trip and since I was there, I could operate on a few other more complex cases. I convinced them that I would still like to see an echo-cardiogram performed at her bedside so I could confirm the diagnosis. Quickly, they obliged me as I had just flown almost 5,000 miles and come to the hospital straight from the airport. When we repeated the echo-cardiogram, it was apparent that she had a more complex problem. She had a defect known as an aortopulmonary window, not the simple diagnosis and she was flooding her lungs!
A few weeks ago she had her 19th birthday. She is enrolled at the university and doing what all gorgeous young women in college do, breaking hearts and creating dreams. Why is this important? Because today the world is at odds with itself, perhaps at a level never before seen in history. We fight over religion, territory, mineral wealth and have forgotten that God placed us on this earth to help one another. Christmas is a time for giving, for helping those less fortunate, for thanking God for what he has done for us and hopefully, for us to emulate his actions. By the way, the father of the young girl, well he was Catholic, and the mother, well she was Muslim. The young girl has not decided yet what she will be, but I know she will make the right choice no matter what the name. She will follow God.
So every year we make our Christmas trips, no matter where they take us. Why? Because God would want us to give out the ultimate Christmas gift: a new heart and the chance for a new life.
Merry Christmas from a Backsliding Baptist!
William M. Novick, M.D.
Founder and Medical Director
International Children’s Heart Foundation
A common aspect of children suffering with congenital heart defects is Down syndrome. Many cases Babyheart teams care for on missions are children with both a heart defect and Down syndrome. Also sadly, some of these children come from orphanages, whose parents have abandoned them, unable or unwilling to offer proper care for their child who requires special needs. This is what happened to a little Macedonian newborn named Mario. Born with Down syndrome and multiple heart defects he was brought to our Babyheart team on the mission to Skopje, Macedonia. His defects caused a severe depletion in oxygenated blood from getting to his body. He had to fight for every breath. That was until he received a successful operation by Babyheart surgeon, Dr. Marcelo Cardarelli, a ligation PDA and a VSD closure. Then he was off to receive post-operative care in the ICU where he got to meet Respiratory Therapist, Kim Kimball, an ICHF medical volunteer. The Babyheart team saved his life but even with a new and healthy heart, he needed saving of another kind. The staff at Mario’s orphanage did the best they could, but the ratio of 1 to 15 of caregiver to child was not sufficient, especially for the special healthcare needs required by Mario. His chances following a return to the orphanage were not good. What Mario required was something he never had since he came into this world, a kind and loving family. An adoptive family could provide him with a healthy upbringing and a normal life.
That’s where Kim enters the story. An adoptive mother of three children herself, she is very sympathetic to the plight of abandoned children, without hope and not given a chance. Her work as a Bayheart volunteer helped save Mario’s life but Kim did not stop there. She thought about his quality of life long after his heart surgery. She was compelled to do something for Mario and help find him a family. In effect saving his life again from languishing as an unwanted orphan due to the stigma of having Down syndrome and a heart defect. Mario now has a new heart and new hope. “All he needs is a little love, nourishment, and care,” according to Kim.
Kim knew where to go for help. She contacted the National Down Syndrome Adoption Network (NDSAN), a US-based organization whose mission is to ensure that every child with Down syndrome has the opportunity to grow up in a loving family. All it took was an email and a Facebook post and Stephanie Thompson, co-director of NDSAN responded to Kim to begin the process. Then Kim reached out to Macedonia’s Minister of Labor and Social Policy, Monica Bozinovska. Kim was initially not optimistic about receiving a prompt reply from the government, even from a small country like Macedonia. Kim heard from Monica the very next day. She connected NDSAN with Monica and the search for an adoptive family began immediately. There was no luck in Macedonia trying to find a family willing and able to care for a child of Mario’s needs. In America Stephanie was able to locate three prospective families interested in Mario.
“We were so thankful Kim and the International Children’s Heart Foundation were at the right place at the right time,” said Stephanie. “And we appreciated Kim contacting us to identify families for Mario. And great news! One of our families has been identified, and if all clearances go through, they will be his forever family!”
This family Stephanie found through her registry remarkably has experience having adopted another baby with a heart defect and Down syndrome. (they will remain anonymous during the clearance process) Mario will be a perfect fit and a beautiful addition!
Mario continued to receive care in the ICU. The Babyheart volunteers brought clothing and formula up until his recent discharge and return to the orphanage. Monica is now working directly with the family to complete the international adoption process which, if all goes well, usually takes about three months. In this case the mechanisms of bureaucracy moved rather swiftly. Hopefully soon Mario will be with a loving family in the USA. ICHF Clinical Educator/ Nurse Coordinator, Frank Molloy teases Kim by calling her a “serial adopter,” for the number of children she’s adopted. She has adopted 3, ages 6, 5, and 3 and gave birth to one of her own. Her maternal instincts cannot be turned off and her large heart meant to care for children can’t be stopped. That is why she is a Babyheart volunteer traveling the world, attending up to 4 missions every year, and is at the very heart of how ICHF is able save lives, sometimes twice!
The National Down Syndrome Adoption Network maintains a registry of 200 families that are ready to adopt a child with Down syndrome. You can learn more about the NDSAN at www.ndsan.org and www.facebook.com/dsadoption.
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.