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)
…an essay from pediatric heart surgeon, Dr. Kathleen Fenton, International Children’s Heart Foundation for Women in Thoracic Surgery.
I live in Managua, Nicaragua, and I have been working for the International Children’s Heart Foundation for almost seven years. Roughly 90% of the world’s children are born in countries where there is limited or no access to congenital heart surgery, and 1% of all infants are born with a heart defect that requires surgery for survival. That adds up to a lot of children. Each child has a story, and if you get me started, I will easily tell you one after another, stories of little “blue” children with clubbing the likes of which I had never seen in the US, who had to stop going to school because they didn’t have the energy to walk there anymore; stories of children so thin they looked like concentration camp inmates, with hearts that filled up their chest x-rays though in some cases they “only” had an ASD or a PDA, and stories of desperate parents who had given up hope to the point where they decided to just focus on the other kids in the family, because this one was already lost.
Working in a developing country had been in my mind ever since I was a research fellow in Boston, listening to Aldo Castaneda talk about Guatemala. Several years later, I made a trip with Kirk Kanter to El Salvador and there, for the first time, experienced the need first hand. The 2006 STS meeting, though, wins the award for being the meeting that resulted in the greatest “change in my practice”- I attended several talks on cardiac surgery in developing countries and was really struck by the data presented. Immediately I wanted to do something about it! That year, I made two trips to Nicaragua with ICHF, and definitively relocated in December to start ICHF’s first “in country” project. Since then, I have worked as a member of an otherwise fully Nicaraguan team – operating with a Nicaraguan surgeon who had only completed his training one year before I arrived and who was eager to start a congenital heart surgery program. We have learned an immense amount from each other. There have been lots of stops and starts and setbacks, but we now have the program up and running and are able to do basic and mid-level congenital heart surgery on a continuous basis.
By summer 2011 we were happy with the progress in Nicaragua, so I began to make trips with ICHF medical teams to other countries. This allows me to operate regularly and at the same time have the Nicaraguan surgeon do all the surgery in Nicaragua. In the past two years, I have made three trips with medical teams to the Dominican Republic, four to Honduras, four to Ecuador and five to Benghazi, Libya. I particularly enjoyed making the first-ever trips to Santo Domingo and Benghazi: it’s exciting to do heart surgery where it has never been done before! It’s also very gratifying to make repeated trips to the same country. We work with the same local team each time, and often also have many “repeat” ICHF team members. This enables us to really recognize both the progress that the local staff makes as well as the areas that still need work. It also makes it possible, in many cases, to see children who had surgery on previous trips.
My work with ICHF is also gratifying on a personal level. I believe that traveling in general is a tremendously broadening educational experience: just to see other places (both within and outside one’s home country) is to learn and grow. However, being able to work in another country, side by side with professionals from widely varied backgrounds, goes well beyond the already-valuable experience of being a tourist. In Nicaragua, I have truly learned another language and a whole new culture. Traveling to other Latin American countries, I learn not only new Spanish words, but also different local customs (and of course special foods). Being in Benghazi just a year after the revolution, and helping Libya to recover has, of course, been a unique and unrepeatable experience, one perhaps worth a whole different website post at another time…
Looking at the vast number of children worldwide, a surgeon might be tempted to think that there is nothing that can be done, there is no way to solve this problem. I think often, though, of the response of Mother Theresa of Calcutta when someone asked her how she could possibly hope to help so many people. She said, “Well, I can help this one.”
For more information about ICHF’s global mission click here.
For more information about Women in Thoracic Surgery, click here.
Stefanya was an orphan that our Babyheart medical team operated on during our mission to Kharkiv, Ukraine in February, 2013. Stefanya has Down Syndrome and a severe congenital heart defect known as Tetralogy of Fallot. In order to prevent her from suffering from heart failure, the Babyheart team performed a surgical repair to her congenital heart defect on February 6th.
Just months after the International Children’s Heart Foundation healed her heart, Stefanya was adopted by American, Brittany Newton. Today, Stefanya is with her new family! Stefanya’s caring mother recently took her for a check-up to make sure that Stefanya’s heart was recovering well. Here is a message from her new mom, Brittany, after their successful check up.
“Stefanya checked out great at the cardiologist today! They said the repair looks excellent and she is doing great! Oxygen level was fabulous and she doesn’t need another checkup for six months and after that, just a yearly check up on her heart! They said ICHF did an excellent job thanks again for all you guys do!”
Brittany said she found Stefanya through Reece’s Rainbow, a ministry that helps provide a way for families to find children with special needs who are available for, and desperately need, adopting.
“It was neat to get to tell them about ICHF,” Brittany continued, “and the life-saving work you guys do. Without the surgery she received she likely wouldn’t have made it until we got there to adopt her and bring her home. We are so deeply appreciative of what you have done for her. Surgery + adoption has truly given her a second chance at life.”
It is a fantastic thing to see the whole circle completed: An American team of doctors and nurses goes to Eastern Europe to operate on a child with down syndrome and a broken heart, now fixed and adopted by a loving family back in America!
The following is an editorial written by Dr. William Novick, published in Memphis’ Commercial Appeal May 31, 2013
Since I founded the International Children’s Heart Foundation in Memphis in 1993, our teams and I have performed cardiac surgery on more than 6,000 children in 31 countries on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. In 2013, we have set our sights high, with plans to do 1,000 surgeries on 40 trips to 15 countries.
Every year, 1.8 million children are born with congenital heart defects. The International Children’s Heart Foundation strives to address this problem by getting care to as many children as possible, sending supplies and surgical teams around the world and training local surgeons and medical staff so they can care for their own people.
But you don’t have to be a cardiac surgeon to save children’s lives. The Save the Children organization estimated this month in its report “State of the World’s Mothers” that 1 million babies die on the f irst day of life. Most of these deaths are a result of far less complicated health issues than heart defects, and with much cheaper solutions.
For children around the world, the first day is the most dangerous day of life. Babies in our own communities in the United States are not immune from these dangers. Every year, 11,300 American mothers lose their babies the day they give birth. Although the risks are not as high as in many developing countries, the U. S. has the worst first-day death rate among industrialized nations, at 2.6 deaths per 1,000 live births. Tennessee’s first-day death rate, 2.8 deaths per 1,000 live births, is close to the national average, while Shelby County has struggled with numbers almost twice as high — 5.5 deaths per 1,000 live births.
Shelby County’s efforts to address infant mortality are starting to pay off, and these efforts must continue if more babies are to survive their very first day. As in many other parts of the world, these deaths are often related to poverty and lack of adequate prenatal care that result in preterm birth. However, here at home, they are almost never the result of lack of very basic care at birth itself. Whatever the reasons, avoidable newborn deaths are always unacceptable.
Through the efforts of many good people, global child deaths have declined from 12 million to 7 million annually since 1990. Until now, most of that progress has benefited children older than one month. Newborns continue to be the most vulnerable. But the world’s babies don’t have to die.
The average cost of the heart surgery performed by the International Children’s Heart Foundation is $2,500, which is 91 percent less expensive than the average cost of a similar surgery in the United States ($ 30,000). But growing evidence shows the cost of preventing the deaths of babies on their first day of life is usually even cheaper. A basic antiseptic costing 25 cents can prevent deadly infections, and injectable antibiotics for $1 can treat them when they do occur. Steroid injections for women in preterm labor or basic resuscitation devices costing a few dollars can help babies breathe at birth.
I’m proud that our country is helping developing countries train health workers to deliver this kind of basic lifesaving care, which empowers local people to save the lives of mothers, babies and children for many years to come. Support for international development is less than 1 percent of the federal budget. I hope you’ll join me in supporting America’s continued leadership in maternal, child and newborn health. It could be the difference between life and death for a child. Dr. William M. Novick is the founder and medical director of the International Children’s Heart Foundation and a professor of surgery and international child health at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. In April, he was one of nine Americans honored with a REAL Award, created by Save the Children and the Frontline Health Workers Coalition to develop greater respect and appreciation for health workers around the world.
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