It is always interesting to reckon what a child is thinking, but when the child has been born into a world utterly incomprehensible to the American child, the exercise gets really interesting.
As he is being transferred from the bed to the operating table, Mohammed is looking stoic and brave and very much a child who wants to make his father proud. I can only imagine that he does. But Mohammed, at eight years old, lived through a brutal civil war at about the same age that I was contemplating a career as Spiderman.
Libya is a country where hope is still so fragile that isn’t really given to flights of fancy. The parents know it, and as is always the case, the children know it too even if they can’t say why. But there is hope: the war is over now. For Mohammed, however, a danger lurks that is not from above but from inside. The boy has a hole in his heart.
His hopes, and those of his parents, are pinned on an Iranian-born Swiss surgeon, Dr. Ali Dodge-Khatami. He is performing the ASD closure in an operating theater that is better equipped than I was expecting. The issue in Benghazi is not one of equipment but of education and training, and that is why the ICHF has come. The Libyans know this and have sent staff from Tripoli to take part in the training.
In situations like these, there is always a mild dose of culture shock: in the scrub room the Libyan anesthesiologist kneels on a small rug, making his 5:00 prayers. The bypass machine to be used for the procedure is maneuvered quietly around him and into the theater. Mohammed’s chart has his nutritional status listed as “Normal” but from across the room nearly every rib in his chest can be counted. And he is. An American who could once believe that he’d have spidey-senses can afford to get fat, but this is a different world.
What he thought, as he woke in the long quiet of the night shift, was “Is the surgery over yet?” Those were the first words he uttered to his mother and veteran ICHF volunteer Andrea Hiebert. It was over, and it was a success. He’d be sore, but was well. He went back to sleep.
What then, did the boy think when he awoke to the handover from night shift to day, drifting out of a groggy sleep to find a dozen doctors and nurses from around looking, smiling and chatting away in a incomprehensible babble? Were they discussing him? They are friendly faces, ones that – so his mother says – are telling him that he is well now, he will live and play soccer and, if the mood hits, can consider a career as a superhero as long as he has a sensible backup plan.
I took his picture, and with now prompting gave me a thumbs up. I think we understood each other. He walked out of the ICU a few hours later on his own. He has hope and a realistic one at that.
The aptly named International Children’s Heart Foundation is just that. The “International” doesn’t apply just to the children served, or even the desperate locales Baby Heart Missions travel. It also encompasses an international collaboration of medical professionals coming together to address a very specific, global problem made infinitely complex by the impossible number of variables ranging from the abstraction of politics to the decidedly more visceral issue of plumbing .
ICHF doctors, and they are an international lot, have performed over 5,000 surgeries in 40 countries with a mortality rate comparable to that of the US. Thus showing that a dedicated group of international volunteers and supporters, being coordinated from Memphis on a shoestring budget, can change the world. In the process, it makes a high-minded international collaboration of politicians with unlimited funds like the United Nations look like a high-school debating society.
Pediatric cardiac surgeon Dr. Mila Stajevic Popovic, of Belgrade’s Mother and Child Health Institute of Serbia, headed the latest Baby Heart Mission to Kharkov, Ukraine. She brought with her two Serbian doctors from the same hospital, anesthesiologist Igor Krunic and cardiologist Sergej Prijic. The team was filled out with an intensivist from Germany, a respiratory therapist and two PICU nurses from America and a PICU nurse from New Zealand.
In any teaching situation, understanding is key. Most of the staff of Kharkov Regional Hospital has an understanding of English, but there are a number of what might be termed as cultural untranslatables. To this end, the Serbian doctors brought a certain insight to working and thriving in conditions of extreme economic hardship and, for that matter, the extreme political hardship of the former Soviet block.
Both Serbia and Ukraine share a common Slavic heritage and culture, along with a recent past dominated by the USSR through Moscow. And both nations shed their communist mantels in the early nineties and in neither case was the transition particularly smooth. Serbia emerged as Yugoslavia dissolved into civil war. At the same time, Ukraine’s centrally planned economy shuttered off the rails as it broke from Russia. The Serbian doctors have proven to be a helpful link in the transformation of the Kharkov program from its Soviet era protocols to the more modern realities of 21st century medicine. And while the efforts of the ICHF are life-saving to the patients, redefining for the host hospitals, they have a profound effect on the doctors as well.
The Mother and Child Health Institute of Serbia, and Dr. Stajevic Popovic, have a long history with the ICHF. She was in surgery with ICHF founder Dr. William Novick in Belgrade when NATO bombs began to fall on the city in 1999. And that program, now concluded, is proof that the ICHF is not only saving lives, but training medical professionals so that they can train others to Western standards as well.
Dr. Sergej Prijic, cardiologist, when asked what he thought about the program and his experience as an ICHF doctor, he said with a winning grin: “If I step out of window, I will fly.”
Dear Friends, Supporters & Volunteers:
Joy to the World! Thanks to our friends, supporters and volunteers, parents around the world have joy in their hearts not only at this time of the year, but all year long. They are celebrating the lives of their children because of your generosity.
With the holiday season approaching and 2010 rapidly coming to an end, we reflect on all the wonderful things that were accomplished this year with the help of our supporters and volunteers. This year, you helped provide operations to over 700 children in 16 countries. What an amazing gift you gave to their parents! A gift they will always cherish and be thankful for – - a gift that goes well beyond Christmas morning. These children are now living healthier lives and their parents look forward to the holiday season with joy instead of despair.
As you think about your year-end giving, we ask that you remember International Children’s Heart Foundation. For 2011, we have 50 medical mission trips planned to 15 countries, where we anticipate providing operations to over 1,000 children with congenital heart defects. You can be a part of this lifesaving effort by making a donation by the end of the year.
Our budget for 2011 is a little over $2,000,000. For a $2,000 donation, you can help save one child’s life – a small price to pay for a gift that lasts a lifetime! For every $2,000 donation you make, we will send you a picture of the child your donation saved. This child and their family will be forever grateful for your gift.
Every dollar you give will make a difference in a child’s life, so please give whatever amount you can afford. For each $20.00 gift you make, we will send a holiday greeting card to your friends or loved ones. Please fill out the form below and return it with your heartfelt gift today. Hundreds of children are waiting for their chance atholiday joy. Your generosity will make it happen!
We are very appreciative for your support this year that helped save the lives of so many children. We look forward to your continued support in 2011. Over 1,000 children are depending on your help next year.Secure Online donations can be made @ www.babyheart.org. Checks can be mailed to ICHF, 1750 Madison Ave., Suite 500, Memphis, TN 38104
May the spirit of the season fill your heart with love, peace and joy. Wishing you and your family a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year!
William M. Novick, M.D.
Founder & Medical Director
PS: Remember, the joy that you give to others is the joy that comes back to you. Please give generously so your joy can continue to reach children around the world.