Why do I travel and volunteer in some of the most “undesirable” tourist destinations in the world on my vacation time?
It is difficult to pinpoint the exact reason why I chose to take time from my busy life to “vacation” Tobruk, Libya, where I find myself currently, but the rewards are most definitely more valuable than anything imaginable.
Most people I know ask why would you go to such a place on your vacation time? First and foremost it is the children and their families, it is the same reason I work at my job in the United States but with a very large difference. These children are born into countries and situations where not even one surgical option exists. They are lacking a solution. The local medical professionals need knowledge to perform surgery and care for their children.
I first heard of Dr Novick when I was a new nurse, at a seminar at my hospital through Children’s Heart Link, but waited until my 5th year as a PICU nurse to actually sign up and travel on a team. I have since traveled with Dr Novick, 14 times and am always mezmorized by the knowledge and compassion he carries within himself as he inspires medical professionals from around the globe to volunteer their time to help the children. Dr Novick and his team do not only mend these tiny hearts but also look at ways to provide sustainable healthcare solutions in these countries.
In Libya I had the honor to work alongside Dr. Novick and to me a “dream team” of international health care professional volunteers, I reconnected with local colleagues and met new Libyan health care professionals. It is wonderful to see their growth as health care professionals and their true compassion for furthering their education, even in the most desperate of situations with an on-going civil war. This idea is what draws me to Dr. Novick and his team as this is what I see is the most important aspect of these trips.
I am fortunate to be able to travel to places I never dreamed of visiting and have forged a “family of friends”, both from Cardiac Alliance and local team members, whom I will always have a special connection. So, while Libya may not be the top tourist destination in the world, I will leave this trip with an experience which is very special and heart-warming, to know I have directly impacted the health and future of the Libyan children.
The picture of a child with a healed heart is a simple expression of our purpose, however what is often more difficult to show is the ‘behind the scenes’ work we do that is vital to the success of our programs. At Cardiac Alliance we believe that by educating and collaborating with local healthcare teams, we can help to build sustainable pediatric cardiac care services that are capable of caring for hundreds of children with heart defects every year.
The surgery is fascinating and the children are cute but it is the collaboration with the local staff and the growth we see in their team that we, the Cardiac Alliance staff and volunteers find the most exciting.
Each trip begins with the arrival of the Cardiac Alliance team. On our recent trip to Macedonia, Frank Molloy our PICU Nurse Practitioner and Educator first walked our volunteer team through the surgical unit in the hospital and shared the local protocols. Frank could see many changes that had occurred in the 2 months since our last visit- better organization of supplies, two new nurses, the newly developed quick guide “cheat sheets” for the team to refer to, even new decorations in the Pediatric ICU!
With each patient, the Cardiac Alliance team makes sure that the local nurses and doctors are thoroughly involved. The local team in each site already has methods that they are used to and comfortable with and our international volunteers will have come with experience and new ideas to share. We believe that by encouraging the local team to walk through the problem and offer solutions themselves with the assistance of our team, we teach more than we could with a list of orders or a checklist.
On our trips, time is rarely disposable so a lot of the learning is done hands on in the clinical setting though we often hold lectures and small workshops. The key to a successful trip is the development of professional relationships with the local team built on mutual respect, understanding and a common goal. We plan to visit each of our partner sites multiple times per year for several years and with time the local team becomes more independent and confident in their ability to manage the patients. This model of sustained, intermittent support has been very successful for us and now a number of our volunteers come from previously assisted sites.
At Cardiac Alliance we believe that every child matters but doing surgery on one child is not enough! By educating local healthcare professionals and empowering them to provide high quality care in their own region utilizing the available resources, we can ensure that the next hundred children (and the hundred after that) with heart disease have hope and access to the care they each deserve no matter where they are born. You can be a part of changing lives! Volunteer with us or Donate today and help us fill the world with Happy hearts!