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Ingenuity and patience are two very important aspects of our work around the world.
When you’re involved with a new heart program in a war torn or developing country, you must be able to think on your feet. You can’t expect the same equipment or help you would get in a well-developed hospital!
For example Sergey, our anesthesiologist, slips two bags into the pocket of his scrubs. A surgery is in process, and he is managing two bags of platelets. Typical western hospitals have a machine to keep the platelets warm and agitated, but the hospital here in Libya is far from a typical western hospital. So Sergey uses his body heat to keep the platelets warm and the constant movement between the operating table and his supply station keeps the bags agitated.
Some issues are expected.
Several key pieces of equipment we are using to operate are borrowed—from other hospitals, and from our own store of equipment in the US.
And surgeries take longer when teaching local doctors and nurses, so our days are long. We continue to invest our knowledge and experience because they are keen to learn.
Some issues are unexpected.
David, our biomedical engineer, sent out for power strips when the ICU proved seriously short of outlets.
The ICU has become extremely hot and uncomfortable for our young patients. The mother of young Malak, a child now recovering from her recent heart surgery here in Libya, purchased an air conditioner for the unit. She and her daughter won’t benefit from the purchase since they’re headed home soon. But they did it for the other families still waiting their turn for surgery.
And then there are the daily periods where there is no water in the hospital. It always comes back, but on dry days we have to use saline to wash patients.
It would certainly be easier to work exclusively in more developed countries. But we choose to work where the needs are greatest.
Some issues are expect, others aren’t, but the opportunity to save children and serve families makes it all worth it!
We’re well into our second surgical mission here in Libya, and things are moving steadily along. Take two minutes to hear an update on our work, straight from Dr. Novick.
Our most recent trip to Libya was truly groundbreaking.
The first open heart surgery in the city’s history and a hospital flooded with camera crews to document the occasion showed just how thrilled the local Libyans by this first mission, but this was also a first for some of our volunteer nurses. Of all places, Angela and Amalie chose war-torn Libya for their first volunteer experience with the Cardiac Alliance.
Here are a few of their thoughts on the whole experience:
How did nursing in Libya compare to nursing back home?
Angela: “I enjoyed how much more time we had to actually pay attention to our patient. Back home, so much time is spent charting everything.”
Amalie: “It’s really cool to see how much you can do with pure assessment and vital signs. Back home, we send for diagnostic tests from the lab constantly, and it helps. But everything felt more efficient not having to jump through so many hoops.”
What made the work challenging?
Angela: Culturally, the accountability and the sense of time was so different.
Amalie: I loved getting to work alongside the locals in terms of cultural exposure, but communication with locals was a big challenge.
I started out frustrated with the local nurses, like they were just a tag-along making my work slower and a bit harder, but I began to realize how valuable they are to the team, especially if you allow and trust them to have responsibilities.
Thoughts on training the Libyan nurses?
Amalie: When you do the work for them, they don’t feel accountable. When you give them the responsibility to do it on their own, they can rise to the occasion and it’s amazing to see.
Stacey told me to make a plan with the nurses I was overseeing, and that worked well. I could leave for a couple hours at a time, and when I checked back they’d done everything right. Setting expectations ahead of time really helped.
How did you find working with Dr. Novick’s team?
Angela: In general, Dr. Novick’s team was really supportive and fun. They weren’t intimidating to approach. I was surprised by how well they all knew each other.
Amalie: I remember handing a little boy to his mother and was impressed that Pasha (ICU Intensivist) was right there helping position chest tubes and IV lines. No doctor back home would be that involved, helping handle the patients.
Highlights of your time in Libya?
Angela: I loved getting to work with the locals. I’d like to experience more of the culture, and I enjoyed visiting Libya because it isn’t a place I could easily travel on my own.
Amalie: It was really cool hanging out with the local nurses, Fatma and Naima, outside of the hospital. It’s great getting to know locals outside of the ICU.
Would you do it again?
Angela: I’d do it again, but I probably wouldn’t come back to Libya. It’s a little more challenging and restrictive than I thought it would be.
Amalie: I may come back to Libya, but I’d like to work in a few other places. I think the main reason I’d come back was to work with the Novick Cardiac Alliance regulars. They’re just really cool and really experienced and fun to be around.
Amalie: This is real nursing. On trips like this, you do things because they need to be done, not just because it’s protocol or a hospital standard. I think that’s what made this all feel so ‘pure’—it’s all about the patient rather than following protocols for their own sake.
This is Munam.
This lucky little guy just became the first open heart surgery recipient in the history of his city!
Having no access to treatment and very little money, Munam’s mother and father spent their savings renting cars and buying expensive Egyptian visas to travel back and forth across the border seeking care for their son. Despite the endless border-hopping, in the end Munam’s parents simply couldn’t afford the cost of surgery in Egypt.
They had nearly given up hope when they heard about a ‘foreign team’ of heart specialists who were coming to do operations in their own city! Munam’s parents could hardly believe it, but they began to hope again.
Novick Cardiac Alliance arrived and, after assessing Munam, decided that Munam could have his operation and that he would be the very first operation! It was a complete success, and four days later he was ready to go home.
Shortly after Dr. Novick and the team provided Munam with surgery, his mother told us,
“My life was only night, but you brought the morning. Thank you!
Are you ready to ‘bring the morning’ for more moms like Munam’s? Your donation helps us continue our lifesaving work around the world. Click here to give now.
As an infant, they heard a heart murmur.
But, after being examined at a local Libyan hospital, they cleared Marwa, saying she was perfectly healthy. But Marwa’s mother was never convinced.
With the eyes of a mother, she noticed how breathless Marwa became after short walks, how she turned blue when exercising. The family went in for another exam and found Marwa had a large VSD.
But then began the real challenge: finding surgery in a war-torn country after years of lost time.
The family looked abroad for surgery options, but as soon as doctors saw her pulmonary hypertension, they wouldn’t touch Marwa. Fellow Libyans in Tripoli refused, Egyptians refused, Jordanians refused. All said she was inoperable.
When they presented her to us, they thought she was hopeless, but they couldn’t stop trying.
Back in 2012, Marwa became the first double flap valve patch repair done in Libya when Dr. Novick and his team visited Benghazi. She did extremely well, has grown, and her follow up has been “perfectly unremarkable” according to Dr. Novick.
This week, we followed up with Marwa and got to hear how she’s doing (not to mention the sweets her mom made for us!). Her mother still pays close attention and is delighted at the change in her daughter.
This the kind of impact we’re having in Libya, one child at a time! February is Heart Month—help us continue breaking new ground and saving children like Marwa by making a donation here.
Our first mission to the city of Tobruk, Libya was a huge success!
As Dr. Novick put it: “It wasn’t a particularly difficult or eventful trip…but the locals REALLY appreciated us being there.”
After 16 successful cases, closing ceremonies involved a lot of hugs, cake, selfies, and hand shakes. Thanks to all of our donors, volunteers, staff, and supporters who helped make it possible—we’re grateful for all of you!
Here’s a quick update from Dr. Novick and the team, now en route home:
We’re leaving Libya today after providing the final two operations on Thursday, both extubated by 8 p.m., The Benghazi Medical Center team is staying behind for a few days to get all the children discharged from the hospital. We all flew to Al Bayda, then from there we spread out across the globe to our homes on Saturday. We spent a few hours with the Libyan Minister of Health discussing the needs at Tobruk Hospital so it is better prepared for our next trip. The Kharkiv team finishes up today as well and will head home tomorrow. Next up, Honduras and Macedonia starting end of next week. I will be traveling to Tehran, Iran and Tashkent, Uzbekistan over the next month to review sites for future assistance, wish me luck. —Dr No
A few more photos from the trip:
Over the years Dr. Novick recruited and developed a group of administrators and clinical experts in the field of global pediatric cardiac care who shared his passion and vision to help eradicate the suffering caused by congenital heart disease in the developing world.
In October 2014 this group of dedicated professionals came together in support of their natural leader and formed the William Novick Global Cardiac Alliance.
Sharing a vision consistent with Dr. Novick’s trajectory, we are excited to join him in this new effort and will continue to carry out our work in any corner of the world where our services are needed.
I knew as a child that I wanted to become a nurse and my passion for pediatric cardiac care is rooted in my own personal story. I was born with congenital heart defects and have undergone two open heart surgeries as a child. Little did I know that this dream would lead me to a career in which I would care for children in developing countries around the world.
In 2012, I began volunteering as a nurse on medical mission trips. On my first trip, I was amazed by the resilience of children, their strength to survive. Working alongside other medical volunteers from many different countries, I witnessed a selfless compassion to help dissolve the abundant need for quality cardiac care for children worldwide.
Sometimes I share my heart story with my patients and their parents. If I don’t speak the language, I simply show them my scar in an attempt to convey the message that my scar is proof I survived. Sharing my story calms their anxiety and gives them a hope that their child can grow up to be a healthy adult.
From my travels to countries such as Ukraine, Iraq, and Libya, where I don’t speak the language, I learned that the expression of joy and gratitude on a mother’s face as she sees her child given a new chance at life is undeniably universal.
“When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.”
Perhaps challenges are sent by the Lord in order that we can check ourselves and truly appreciate those people who are close to us. We realize this so clear now in Ukraine as never before. So, I was extremely proud to be present at the birth of a new foundation – William Novick Global Cardiac Alliance.
Kharkiv Pediatric Heart Surgery team very welcomes the renovated, but very native Bill Novick’s team – the team of high professionals, nice people and our dear friends.
Winston Churchill said: “The only way a man can remain consistent amid changing circumstances is to change with them while preserving the same dominating purpose.” Our purpose is saving children’s lives. Go together toward our goal!
Dr. Igor Polivenok
Chief the Department of Cardiac Surgery and Emergency Cardiology