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.
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:
The International Children’s Heart Foundation (ICHF) is pleased that you are visiting our Blog! This will be a great way for you to keep up-to-date with all the exciting developments occurring around the world with and through ICHF.
ICHF is a 501(c)(3) headquartered in Memphis, TN. The mission of ICHF is to bring the skills, technology and knowledge to cure and care for children with congenital heart disease to developing countries. ICHF does this regardless of country of origin, race, religion or gender. We travel to these countries with a complete medical team and provide surgeries to the children for free. We also train the local medical professionals to perform these surgeries on their own eventually.
This fiscal year we have 33 two-week trips planned around the globe in countries including: Honduras, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Egypt, India, China, and the Philippines. We are on pace to provide life-saving heart surgeries to more than 800 children around the globe! On each trip we take a complete medical team of surgeon(s), anesthesiologists, perfusionists, intensivists, cardiologists, OR nurses, PICU nurses, etc.
We will be Blogging about: the trips we take and the lives we save; interesting stories about the children we serve around the world; stories about our various volunteers and staff; links to helpful information about Congenital Heart Defects; Links to other organizations around the globe helping children with heart defects; interesting statistics about congenital heart defects, etc.
We will include pictures and video. We will have Guest Bloggers. And….of course, we welcome your comments on ways to enhance this Blog!
This week we have full medical teams in Colombia and India. In the 1st Quarter of 2010 we operated on 172 children and expect to reach 180 children in the 2nd quarter!
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