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
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.”
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)
A photographer’s first voyage on ICHF’s first Babyheart medical mission to Skopje, Macedonia
Humanitarian missions are a labor of love, with equal parts of each. They’re also full of hows… How are things going to go, how will the kids do, how is the culture different to what I’m used to? There’s an excitement to not knowing any of these things and a similar excitement as the answer to each question is found through experience.
There are always two aspects to any mission. The external aspects that generate the questions above and the internal aspect of team and patient where there are no questions at all. I KNOW the team is here to fight for the patient, I KNOW the skills of each individual is beyond question, I KNOW the mother and family of each child we see loves their kid with the utmost intensity. I KNOW what’s at stake.
Macedonia, from my perspective, was a beautiful experience. After a grueling flight from Denver I was rewarded by a pretty morning and short drive from the airport to the hotel where the team was staying. No matter where I go, the drive from the airport to the city always sets my impression of a place and this drive was no exception. We passed small parcels of land that had obviously been farmed for a long time, new housing developments and older homes long abandoned. I saw old men fishing in what looked like drainage canals and groups of kids playing basketball at a graffiti covered rec area. I saw in abundance what I call “the sameness” of everywhere I’ve ever been, people going about their day, working hard to support their families. The thing that was different here, was the destruction. There are places you had to look for it but there are small reminders in Skopje of the devastating earthquake in 1963 that set this country back so far. The best example is the train station in Downtown Skopje that was left as it stood the day of the quake, stopped clock and all.
My job as photographer is twofold, to document what the team is doing to show both the world and you as a donor the good works you make possible and to give the kids and their families a voice. It’s a visual voice but that’s enough to start a dialog between them and the viewer. I feel this is the most important aspect of my job, to make that connection between two people who will probably never meet, between two people, one in desperate need for help and one who CAN help. Here in Macedonia there were no shortage of children in need of lifesaving help and fortunately a team here who could provide that help, the Babyheart medical mission team.
On my first day I was introduced to a woman and her son who’s story was tragic. I wish I could post photos of her son but at her request I won’t. She had had 6 miscarriages and her little boy with the sick heart is her last chance at having a child in her life. Even though her son was scared at being poked and prodded and apprehensive about the army of strangers around him, you could tell he was all boy inside. You could also tell the bond he had with his mother was deep and unshakable. Although I can’t go into too much detail about his case, I can tell you his story had a happy ending…
There were 11 cases done on this mission. I’m unique as far as the team goes because I can’t compartmentalize. Each medical team member has a specific role to play, surgeon, scrub, cardiologist, SICU… I am a participant in my own way for the entire case. I’m there in the beginning for the screening, I’m in the OR for the procedure, I wait with the family for their child to come up from surgery, I’m there in the SICU post op when a family member gets to come in and see their baby for the first time and hopefully I get to come back at some point and see a happy healthy kid playing at his home. This breadth of experience gives me a unique position to be able to comment on the miracles that the ICHF team does with your support. Every volunteer and donor should be proud of the lives they touch because saving innocent children is the highest calling a person can answer.
The stories of each of the families on this mission was different and compelling. As the photographer, I have the privilege (sometimes curse) of really getting to know the families. I share their joy when cases go well and their grief when there’s nothing that can be done. I hope through my pictures from this trip, you’re able to share some of that too.
Babyheart photographer and guest blogger
By ICHF guest blogger and medical volunteer, Sigurdur Stephensen
We are standing by the side of the road in the desert and staring into the distance. The sand is grayer than I had expected, somewhat grayish yellow and it stretches as far as the eye can see. No camels, no donkeys, no Beduin tents. Only this straight road like a pencil mark on a grey piece of paper. Outside it is 20 degrees Celcius and I wonder what I was thinking when I decided to travel here wearing a fleece jacket.
We are waiting for the police escort that was supposed to follow us from the airport in Basra to our destination in Nasiriyah. In Basra we had only been greeted by two bearded guys dressed in suits. I travelled together with Don, a perfusionist from Chicago, who is here for the second time. He recognized one of the men – Ahmed – from his previous trip. Ahmed walked straight up to Don, kissed him on both cheeks and said: “I love you.“ Don looked rather surprised by this warm welcome. I on the other hand received no kisses and no confessions of love. Then we headed in to the desert in an old van. After half an hours driving the police called and wondered where the hell we were.
We bend down and look at the small stones by our feet. Their surface is smooth as if it’s been polished, which is excactly what it has been. Sand polished for centuries. I throw a green stone into the sand. Now is the religious festival of Shia muslims in Iraq, when pilgrims march to the city of Karballah to remember the death of Hussein ibn Ali, who was a cousin of the prophet Mohammed. Because of recent bombings directed against the pilgrims, many of them walk all dressed in white, like a burial shroud, so they will be ready in case they die on their journey. I mention the bombings to Don. He had heard on his last mission that often the terrorists aren’t necessarily looking for a specific target. They just go out driving on the roads and wait until they find a target worth blowing up. “Like a couple of a whities” I think to myself. “Two representatives of the coalition of the willing, who stand sweating by the side of the road.” Despite the fleece jacket and the heat outside this new information gives me shivers down my spine. I just want to crawl back into the van. Maybe hide under the backseat.
International Children’s Heart Foundation and moral speculations
We have come to Iraq as part of a team from the International Children’s Heart Foundation (ICHF) (www.babyheart.org). This organization was founded by Dr. William Novick, a pediatric heart surgeon from Memphis, TN. The aim is to treat children with congenital heart defects in the developing countries and train the local staff so they can, in due time, acquire the knowledge and experience necessary to treat the children without external help. In the year 2011 thirty two missions were organized by ICHF to twelve countries where 450 heart operations were performed. In 2012 the number of operations doubled. I discovered the organizations, like ICHF online and went for my first medical mission to Honduras in October, 2010. Honduras is a poor country in central America that was hit by hurricane Mitch in 1998. Five thousand people lost their lives, 33000 houses and 70% of the roads were destroyed. In the beginning I couldn’t decide wether to join these highly specialized help organizations, or some other that focus on more common health problems. Diseases like congenital heart defects are highly specialized and the treatment is expensive. A heart operation done by ICHF costs on average $2500, which is much more than the treatment of other more common and serious diseases – such as pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria – although, in comparison to the Western world, these operations are relatively cheap.
Back to Iraq
We drive from the guarded guest house, a kind of “safe house”, to the hospital with police escort. Blue lights, sirens and loaded machine guns. I think the escort draws unneccessary attention and people stop in the streets to watch. I would have preferred walking to work. Or riding a donkey. Dressed in burqa. But I get used to the false sense of security and now it’s time to go to work. But it all starts pretty miserably. In the first operation an eleven year old boy dies. He came from the Kurdish region and was basically asymptomatic when he arrived for an operation for a ventricular septal defect and aortic stenosis. The following day a two and a half year old girl is operated for an atrioventricular septal defect. The operation goes well but during the night she develops pulmonary hypertension that does not respond to intensive treatment. Heart operations in the developing countries often pose increased risk in many senses. The children often have lived with their heart defect for a long time which has created additional problems such as pulmonary hypertension (PHT) and since they are often malnourished they are more vulnerable in the perioperative period. Secondly the knowledge and experience of the local staff is limited which increases the risk for mistakes. The general treatment customary in most pediatric intensive care units in the Western world can often not be provided. Medicines such as nitric oxide, used for PHT, and extra corporal membrane oxygenation is generally not available.
After the difficulties of the first days things start getting better. We suffer no major incidents even though two children have to be reoperated. My job is to examine the children pre- and postoperatively, do echocardiography and take part in deciding which child will need an operation this time and which one can wait. It is evident that we are only going to be able to treat a fraction of the long waiting list. We operate on 15-20 children in two weeks, but each year 30,000 children are born in Iraq with a heart defect that will need an operation.
Teaching and training of the local staff is a big part of our job. The doctors usually speak good english but the nurses and other staff usually do not. The nursing staff are almost exclusively men and often they have not chosen their profession themselves. Therefore not everyone is in the profession because of interest or vision which can be reflected in how receptive they are to our teaching. I try to share my knowledge but I also learn a great deal myself. In Western countries congenital heart defects are usually detected in the first months of life and the patients that require surgery are operated within a few months of birth, or before they develop a lot of symptoms. Therefore, we seldom see the longtime effects of an untreated heart defect. For instance, when I was in Honduras I saw a 7 month old child with transposition of the great arteries, which generally is repaired within a few days of birth in the West.
Iraq was never hit by a natural catastrophe like Honduras. Perhaps more like a man-made catastrophy. But the prize was much higher. The tornado Saddam Hussein created didn’t just blow over the country in a few days – he had 24 years to go about obliterating his own people. The only pediatric cardiologist in Nasiriyah – and one of only ten pediatric cardiologist in the whole country of 30 million people – put it rather mildly the other day. He said: “The main problem of this country is that it has never had a decent leader!“ As long as I can remember Iraq has been at war. I remember recurrent news of casualties in the Iran-Iraq war, that led to nothing in a nine years period (1980-1988), than one million fallen soldiers. Next on the program was the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and ongoing use of chemical weapons against the Kurds in northern Iraq. And then came the invasion of the West in Iraq in 2003 with the unprecedented participation of Iceland as one of the parties in the so called “coalition of the willing”. The last soldiers from that miserable mission left the country about a month before our arrival. I had expected to meet people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder after decades of fighting and fear of suicide bombing, that have escalated after the evacuation of the American soldiers. On the contrary I met positive, smiling and brave people who didn’t look as if they had endured fear, suppression and war for decades. After repeatedly asking a local pediatrician about the effect of the fighting and the insecurity on daily life, he admitted that war had probably become a part of daily life for the Iraqi people. A help organisation member from America, Preemptive Love Coalition, who originally brought ICHF to Iraq, stated that the first months after the invasion in 2003, foreigners were greeted as friends and invited into peoples’ homes, even if they were total strangers. But as the occupation dragged on and there were no major improvements the hospitality of the locals declined. Now they are more careful and avoid associating with foreigners.
But Saddam Hussein can’t proclaim all the honour of Iraq’s miserable health system. In that matter the United Nations (UN) have a heavy cross to bear. Before the year 1990, 93% of the Iraqi people had access to a health system that was among the best in the Middle-East. After the invasion of Kuwait the UN put sanctions on Iraq and as a result the economic status, as well as the health system, plummeted. Saddam Hussein restricted expenses to health system by 90%. Hospitals and outpatient clinics were closed, there was a shortage of medicine and medical equipment and health personnel fled abroad. The incidence of congenital defects escalated as did malignancy amongst children and adults. This is believed to be the effect of the use of chemical weapons against the Kurds in Northern Iraq, where the incidence of congenital heart defects has multiplied. But the sanctions of the UN also directly affected the people’s health status. Child mortality, under five years of age, doubled from the year 1989 to 1999. Many died of hunger. Maternal malnutrition and failing maternal care also increased the incidence of congenital defects. When the willing nations invaded the country in 2003, the weapons were used against the main pillars of society such as roads, power stations, water supplies, sewers and health institutions. So-called depleted uranium was used in the warheads. This is a radioactive metal with a prolonged halftime. The dust from the explosion, which is thought to be carcinogenic, becomes dispersed in the atmosphere and settles in the soil. Thus the incidence of many malignant diseases has increased at the same time that the means for diagnoses and treatment has diminished. Actions, such as the sanctions used by the UN, reflect the deficiency of the organizations, their naive view of the world and the indifference for the real consequences caused by these actions.
End of the road
In our trip to Iraq seventeen children underwent heart operations on defects such as ventricular septal defect, transposition of the great arteries, tetralogy of Fallot, atrioventricular septal defect, aortic stenosis, double outlet right ventricle, subvalvular aortic stenosis, single ventricle and persistent arterial duct. Two children needed reoperation and two children died. A few children that had waited in the hospital for two weeks for surgery could not be operated this time. Hopefully they will be first on the list when the next mission arrives in three months.
Three days before our departure reporters from several TV stations arrived at the hospital. They were informed about the purpose of the mission and interviewed some of the staff. To keep a low profile this was not supposed to take place until the last day. When one of the chief physicians was asked why they had changed the schedule, and if this wouldn’t jeopardize our safety, he replied: “Don’t worry. You are low value targets.”
Early one morning in late January we are two low value targets – one from Iceland and the other from Belarus – sitting in the back of an old van driving along the same pencil mark as before. We are on our way to the airport. It’s still pitch dark and we are freezing in the back. This time I am glad that I brought the fleece jacket with me. The driver is drowsy and it looks to me that he is about to fall asleep at the wheel under a full moon. I keep an eye on him in the rear view mirror. We lag behind the police escort and when we finally catch up with them the drivers get into a heated argument. That’s all good because our man is suddenly wide awake. Gradually the day awakens and the desert sand gets a reddish hue in the morning sun. The Iraqi nation is at a crossroads. In some aspects it is like a man waiting by the side of the road in the desert. The invaders are gone, at least for the time being and the people have their own government and president. However, down under is disagreement and hatred between groups of Shia muslims, Sunni muslims and the Kurds, that has been boiling for centuries. I certainly hope that the people will make the right decisions and choose to have peaceful communications with their fellow countrymen and neighbours. And also that the nations that represented the coalition of the willing, now live up to their expectations and prove that the reason for the invasion in 2003 was really concern for the Iraqi people and not something completely different. That can be done by supporting help organizations like the International Children‘s Heart Foundation in this war-torn country.
Despite the heroic efforts of a shoestring staff in Memphis, it often appears that these Babyheart missions are held together by luck and, to channel Blanche Dubois, the kindness of strangers. The trick to a successful mission isn’t just the doctors, nurses combined with the competence and enthusiasm of our hosts. Sometimes it is an unexpected cocktail of little things we take for granted.
I’ve never been in a hospital, for example, that ran out of gauze pads or pain killers, and for that matter, neither have you. To that end, Martina Panvanic in the Memphis headquarters asked Janine Evans, ICU nurse and the Benghazi mission’s coordinator, to put out the call for supplies. A team email went out and volunteers from Australia, Canada, Belarus, Holland and the US asked their respective hospitals for “disposables” to bring with them. Leaving from Memphis as I was, Martina gave me a huge black duffle that weighed in at 26 kilos.
Traveling with the marauding doctors and nurses of the ICHF is a good way to meet people you wouldn’t normally run across. Granted, most of them are medical professionals, or at someone who desperately needs their help. Every once in a while, though, you get a hail or some help from completely unexpected places, like from behind the counter at an airport gate.
The first leg of my flight to Detroit was delayed long enough to ensure that I’d miss the connection to Paris. The fellow working the Delta counter, Larry, started to do the math to see how to reroute me. “I’ve got a checked bag I can’t lose.” I said, which I’m sure is something he hears eight times a day.
“Describe the bag.”
“You could park a car in it.” I started to say you could fit a body in it but the modern airport is a place with little to no sense of humor. I couldn’t recall any Fiat-in-a-bag terror plots.
“What’s in it?”
“Donated medical supplies.”
“Why are you going to Benghazi with a massive duffle of donated medical supplies?”
It’s a fair question in this day and age, and not one that is answered quickly. I launched into ICHF pitch and the weird perimeters of a Babyheart mission. Larry gave me a determined look, “Pediatric cardiac surgery, huh? I had three open-heart surgeries before the age of 12. Don’t worry, we’ll get your bags there.” Larry turned to the Delta lady beside him, “What’s the number for Salt Lake?”
“That’s the wrong direction.” I pointed out helpfully. He held up a finger in the universal signal that I should stop being helpful.
I was rerouted to a flight that was about to leave for Minneapolis/St. Paul that was scheduled land about five minutes after my connection to Paris was to start boarding. Even on this tight schedule, our approach was delayed as we circled the airport overhead while another plane lingered on the runway.
With fifteen minutes before my next take off, I set off in a mad dash through the airport to the connecting gate. This, I’m sure, was hilarious as I’m built for comfort, not speed. At the gate a Delta employee looked up and fairly screamed, “Mr. Murff!” She more or less pushed me into the plane.
Within a few minutes I was in the air and on my way to Paris. Anyone who travels at all know that if you hustle you can occasionally make a flight by the skin of your teeth. Your luggage is rarely so lucky. And now I had eight whole hours to think about this development.
We landed on time at Charles De Gaulle airport, which is very French: sleek, good-looking, and utterly convoluted. It’s a wildly held belief among Americans who watch too much television that you can see the Eiffel Tower from every window in Paris. This is wrong. I ambled through CDG, found my gate, and asked the stylish clerk about my baggage. “It is here at the airport.” She said with a pretty smile. “Is there a problem?”
“Not at all.”
The bag, and everything in it, made it to Istanbul and onto our final flight into Benghazi…where it was impounded for several hours for no good reason. But that’s hardly Larry’s fault. I’ve really got to thank him.
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.
ICHF was in Sulimaniyah, Iraq in August performing heart surgeries on children — part of the Remedy Mission in conjunction with the Preemptive Love Coalition. While Dr William Novick was operating, photographer Jon Vidar captured this image of surgery as reflected in a heart monitor machine. The photo received the People’s Choice Award at FotoWeekDC 2010!
Congratulations to Jon Vidar (http://www.jonvidarphotography.com) for capturing some of what our medical teams do in the field!
ICHF will be traveling back to Iraq December 4-18 to operate on more children. It is estimated that there are more than 4,000 children in Iraq waiting for life-saving surgery. Worldwide, more than 1,000,000 children are born each year with a heart defect — making this the number one birth defect globally.
ICHF strives to go to poor countries to operate on children suffering from the world’s #1 birth defect – Congenital Heart Defects. But, ICHF is also committed to helping each country build its own self-sustaining pediatric cardiac care/surgery program over time. The words below are from medical volunteer, Barry Markovitz, MD.
As a pediatric intensivist, I wanted to do volunteer medical work for a long time, but never came across an opportunity to practice my skills, the only thing I know – pediatric critical care – until I learned about ICHF. My true passion is pediatric cardiac critical care, and when I found ICHF, I jumped. Big time. This organization has accomplished so much, in so many disparate places, it boggles the mind.
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: