The sights, smells, and sounds of a medical mission trip are like no other. And, it only takes experiencing one of these medical trips to scratch the surface of understanding the dedication that the medical volunteers have for this cause.
June 29th in Maceio, Brazil was a typical day. The “day shift” left the hotel by 7am for a full day of surgery and recovery. This particular trip is comprised of 15 medical staff plus several interns and guests. This list includes people from all over the USA (NE, TN, IN, LA, GA, CA, MI, etc), United Kingdom, and Venezuela. Only 2 of those on the medical staff are full-time employees of the International Children’s Heart Foundation – the rest are taking vacation time to volunteer to operate on the children in this poorest region of Northeast Brazil.
The day included two surgeries and the surgical team didn’t return to the hotel until almost 9pm. These 14 hour day are not uncommon at all on ICHF trips. In the ICU there are about 6 kids at any given time. The good news is that the Operating Room and the ICU are air-conditioned. The children are taken to the OR by their parents just as in the USA. The medical team gets ready in a space about as big as a closet. One of the ORs is very tiny and some of the local equipment leaves a lot to be desired. Unfortunately our entire shipment of equipment and supplies is still being held up at customs in Sao Paulo.
The dedication factor hits me in many areas of the hospital but particularly in the Operating Room. The various physicians, nurses, perfusionist, etc. are on their feet the entire day with very little rest in between cases. The concentration to perform heart surgery on tiny babies is intense. Every once in a while the mood is light, but for the most part things are very serious in the room.
Then it hit me….most of these medical experts are donating their vacation time to travel across the globe to share their expertise to save children who might otherwise die. D E D I C A T I O N. And, the medical staff that are employees of ICHF are also sacrificing incredibly to dedicate their lives to ICHF and saving children. Their sacrifice is beyond comprehension. They could be making much more money in the USA. And when they are back in the USA between trips they are still working long days to organize the next trips, raise funds, write medical papers, etc. It is truly incredible to realize what all of these people are sacrificing to provide this humanitarian service worldwide. These are Moms and Dads, uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters travelling to strange lands, leaving their families to work in less than desirable conditions – all for the greater good of the world.
Outside the Operating Room there are physicians and nurses working in the ICU with the children who have completed surgery. Every team member is a critical link in the chain to make sure the children are able to return home healthy. There are tense moments in the ICU as some children hit bumps in the road as they recover. Some of these medical volunteers work 12 hour shifts and others work 24 hour shifts. It seems like someone is always coming and going from the hotel.
One of the most interesting areas of this hospital is the pediatric ward where the patients go after surgery. One large room with old metal beds and cribs where the patients recover. Windows are open because there is no air-conditioning in this part of the hospital. The hot, sticky air causes everyone to sweat as they sit there. This area is on the top floor of the hospital where the heat rises and makes the muggy room practically unbearable. Children cry and parents linger by the bedsides of their children. At night many of the parents have nowhere else to go so they sleep on the hard floor. Thankfully, one of the guests on this trip has purchased three air-conditioning units and we have arranged to have them installed before we leave.
DEDICATION – there is no other word to describe the sacrifices given by our medical staff and volunteers!
WATCH VIDEO FROM THE OPERATING ROOM VID00039
Pictures from Brazil: