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No Boys’ Club—Meet The Strong Libyan Doctors We’re Training

No Boys’ Club—Meet The Strong Libyan Doctors We’re Training

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Dr. Wejdan is one of the incredible Libyan surgeons we are helping train in Libya. 

When she was just 5 years old, she told her mother she wanted to be a heart surgeon someday. Her mother had no idea that her daughter even knew what a surgeon was!

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Dr. Rasmia didn’t intend to become a doctor: “My teacher in school, he asked me to finish in engineering because I was fantastic in engineering.” Now a cardiologist, Rasmia changed the direction of her life completely when tragedy struck.

“My father died a sudden death, and he collapsed in front of me when I was in second year high school. So I decided, from that time, that I must be a doctor to save people, because I couldn’t save my family.”

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Dr. Naima, one of the top cardiologists in Libya, was hand-picked by her mentor. “There were a lot of choices for me.” she explained.

“By chance, there was a doctor called Dr. Abdul Mahmood. He was the first pediatric cardiologist in Libya. He was working at that time in the hospital, and I was working in his unit.”

“He, this doctor, chose us…he sent my name and the name of Rasmia to the people controlling the hospital.” He said ‘I need these two doctors to come and train…to be a pediatric cardiologist in the future.’ Really, he was the one to choose us.”

After two years of training, learning how to diagnose heart problems in children, Dr. Mahmood left Libya. He left Dr. Naima and Dr. Rasmia as the only ones to carry on the work. “So, at that time, there was no choice at all for us”. Dr. Naima said, “…we had to continue. And it started like that. It was really hard.”

In the late 1990’s there was no internet in Libya to consult. Dr. Naima and Dr. Rasmia no longer had a mentor to learn from. And they had no colleagues to share the burden.

“Really, our teachers were the patients.”

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In-fighting and sanctions left Libya cut off from much of the world, and most aid groups have pulled out. The international doctors and nurses who come to Libya provide the only opportunity for pediatric heart doctors to learn more in their field. These Libyan doctors work hard and spend weeks away from their families to take full advantage of every learning opportunity!

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The cardiologists who diagnose these defects take time to observe surgeries, to learn as much as possible about the hearts they typically only see on a screen. The heart surgeon sits in on diagnosis sessions, to learn from the imaging of individual hearts before a cut is ever made. Everyone attends post-surgical sessions in the ICU, to give feedback on surgeries, the progress of patient healing and possible complications.

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They create a climate of collaboration—there is no competition here. They encourage each other and push each other forward. They work together to give patients the very best care, and to learn as much from each other as possible.

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Their passion and collaborative approach is creating a strong programme, and an environment for constant learning and growth. Their openness makes space for the next generation of medical residents, who come whenever they can spare the time, to observe and learn.

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“Naima and I, we were suffering a lot” Dr. Rasmia emphasized “because we were the only ones to do echoes at that time. Now we have a lot of cardiologists. And all of them are female…”

We Are Cardiac Alliance

We Are Cardiac Alliance

This week marks our first anniversary as Novick Cardiac Alliance, though our team has been working together for many years. Our new video shows you a little about where we have been and what we have been up to…   And we are only just getting started – Join us!

 

Donate  financially or Volunteer with us and help to show every child that they are worth the risk.

The Ugly Duckling and the Swan

The Ugly Duckling and the Swan

I am sure you remember the childhood story of the Ugly Duckling who was constantly reminded of his physical shortcomings as he grew up. Children with single ventricle defects remind me of this story of the Ugly duckling who grows up to be a beautiful swan.Julia at work

Unlike most of us, who have two ventricles, children with one ventricle spend a great deal of their childhood as in-patients in hospitals or visiting doctors in out-patient clinics. They are poked routinely for blood tests, examined constantly for the functionality of the one pumping chamber they have and questioned by other children as to why they can’t play the normal childhood games . Against this nearly continuous barrage of unwanted attention these children must grow up, go through the normal milestones all kids attain and become adults, with little knowledge of how long they have been granted time on this earth.

We don’t know how long these single ventricle operations will keep children alive because the operation is only 43 years old itself and has undergone so many modifications that much of the previous research experience is now meaningless. We do know that the latest versions of the Fontan-Kreutzer Operation are keeping more people alive longer, but whether that will translate into a life-span on this earth that approaches normal is unknown at this time.So an uncertain future, harangued and harassed as children and told they are not the same as others, does this not sound like the Ugly Duckling?Julia in 1994

Twenty-one years ago in Kyiv, Ukraine there was a child of 7 years of age, who wore the label of single ventricle, or Ugly Duckling. Julia lived in a country where few Fontan procedures had ever been performed, and certainly not with success. The first picture, taken just after discharge from the ICU, does not reveal the Swan that she would become. As a young woman post Fontan she did not know she was supposed to continue in the Ugly Duckling role, she decided that since she had been given a second chance at life she would use every second to live life to her full capacity.Julia scuba diving

So our Ugly Duckling finished primary school and overtime the Swan began to emerge, first exceling in her advanced studies and then entering into a career that no Ugly Duckling could have imagined she became a successful Fashion Model. Traveling to far away sites for modeling shoots, what about a single ventricle scuba diving? Today she is considering the next career in her eyes, she wants to be a mother, and this is what reunited us 21 years later. She had developed an urge so powerful to meet the surgeon who had given her the opportunity for this second birthday and new life that she did not quit searching until she succeeded. I met this new Julia in Ukraine just last week.Dr No and Julia

Parents of children with single ventricle should celebrate the lives these children have and always remember that these ‘Ugly Ducklings’ can and do grow up to be magnificent Swans.Julia smiling

Volunteer Story – Lacy Holevis

Volunteer Story – Lacy Holevis

Lacy Volunteered on our recent trip to Nizhny in Russia.Lacy with Team members

I’ve always wanted to do some type of volunteer work and this organization really caught my attention because they strive to educate and support hospitals and staff about pediatric cardiac care around the world. I’ve e been a PICU/CICU nurse for seven years now and I am passionate about taking care of children with cardiac defects. I love to learn about other cultures and how medicine and nursing are practiced in other countries. This organization is perfect for me because it gives me an opportunity to do both of those things while helping children at the same time. I also enjoy educating the local staff in other countries about how to take care of these children in the postoperative period. Teaching them how to do a good nursing assessment, take frequent vitals and showing them how to take out drains, lines and wires. The organization’s staff is wonderful and very knowledgable and I really enjoy working with them and learning from them.I would recommend any nurse that takes care of pediatric cardiac patients to go on a trip with this organization.  It’s so rewarding!

Lacy and BabyVolunteer with Cardiac Alliance and make a difference  today.
David and Goliath

David and Goliath

David is 15 months old  and has been fighting to survive against all odds. David was born in Nigeria, which is a country without a pediatric cardiac surgery programme. Children in Nigeria who need a heart operation have to wait until a foreign team visits their country and hope that they are put on the short list.David with Dr Novick

David had a very complex heart disease called Truncus Arteriosus (the Goliath of this story) and for most visiting teams this was not a type of surgery that they would perform on a short surgical trip. Not because they did not want to but because they knew that David would take a long time to recover in the ICU as he would be very weak and sickNurse led rounds in the ICU

At Cardiac Alliance we believe that empowering the local team to care for children like David is just as important as performing multiple surgeries on a trip. During the first week of our recent trip to Nigeria we worked with the amazing team of nurses and doctors in the ICU in and helped them to prepare to receive a baby as delicate as DavidNurse Princess caring for David

David had surgery at the beginning of our second week and he did very well. He was very sick but the local Nigerian nurses learned how to care for him quickly. One nurse would sit beside him and rub his feet until he fell asleep because it was important to keep him calm – we said that she was better than any medicine!Nurse comforting DavidDavid won his battle- and with your help we can continue to care for children like David as they fight to live healthy and happy lives. We hope to make many more trips to Nigeria in the next few years, Volunteer with us or Donate today to make this possible.

Volunteer Story – Caitlin Walker

Volunteer Story – Caitlin Walker

Imagine working in a hospital where the sound of nearby gunfire is a daily occurrence. Where equipment and supplies are rationed and nothing is thrown in the bin ever. Where nurses have to make their own sterilising solution and alcohol hand-wash.

Where nursing autonomy is greater than in most other healthcare settings – nurses have full authority to act in accordance with their professional knowledge , are competent and courageous to take charge in every situation, are incredibly skilled and beyond amazing at dealing with the daily frustrations of this type of work. Caitlin working hard!This outlines the time I spent in Libya with Novick Cardiac Alliance.  Whilst not my first trip of this kind, the complex political and security climate in Libya made it perhaps the most challenging trip I’ve taken part in.  It was frustrating, exhausting, difficult, scary, and incredibly rewarding and enjoyable all at the same time.

I had the pleasure of working with the most skilled and knowledgeable health professionals I’ve ever encountered and learnt something new every day.  In the two weeks that I was there, Cardiac Alliance operated on 17 children that would otherwise not have been given the opportunity to have lifesaving cardiac surgery. Caitlin with Cardiac Alliance teamBefore I left for Libya, I was continuously asked: “Why would you go to a country at war with itself, you must out of your mind?!” Maybe that is true?  But I’d do it again and again without hesitation. For the children that can be saved, for the families that are just like mine and yours and deserve equality of medical care, for the nursing skills and knowledge obtained, for the many children still in Libya that await future Cardiac Alliance trips to have their hearts fixed too. Caitlin assessing a babyTime and time again I meet the most inspirational people in countries that most people wouldn’t dream of visiting – Thank you to all at Cardiac Alliance for welcoming me into your team and helping to make this trip a success.  And to the Libyan children and their families- Thank you for teaching me more than I can ever possibly give.  Caitlin with Libya team   Volunteer with Cardiac Alliance and be part of saving lives today!

Dr. Novick’s Blog

Dr. Novick’s Blog

Blue Babies, Bombs and Bad Places

So what was it like to be the first American based pediatric cardiac team in Tehran, Iran since 1979?

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Wonderful people, incredible hospitality, eager to learn new techniques and protocols for the care of their children with heart disease and guess what? Not one anti-American word spoken to us the entire trip, amazed? Shouldn’t be because people all over the world are the same, it is our governments that create the friction.

Fortunately we don’t deal with politics, we are Ambassadors of Good Will and we stick to that like glue.Surgery in Iran

One side note for all of you, we cannot seem to get away from Iraqi children. The mother in the photo is holding her 26 day old newborn who we performed an arterial switch operation on and as you can see the baby is fine. The mother is from Baghdad and she went to Nasiriyah to find our team and was told we were not there, but in Iran, so she came to Tehran to find us and have us operate on her child.Baby Misq and MotherImagine that, an Iraqi mother traveled to Iran to have an American team operate on her baby, this is the kind of diplomacy we love. We will be returning to Tehran in November, to do more work and to spread the diplomacy of Good Will!

Dr No

 

Children's Medical Centre Tehran

A Story or Two for Ayat!

A Story or Two for Ayat!

Ayat was born with a heart defect. Within minutes of her birth, trained specialists were at her side caring for her. After discussing Ayat’s condition, the doctors decided to operate on her twice: a partial correction immediately and a full repair after 6 months. Ayat did well through both surgeries, doctors have cared for her all of her life and she is healthy and happy.

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At least, that should be her story.

But Ayat was born in Libya in the midst of a civil war. She was born six weeks early and spent the first month of her life in hospital. Ayat’s mother was told her baby had a problem with her heart, but the hospital did not have the equipment to find out what the problem was or anyone who coud treat her heart. Ayat finally went home six weeks after she was born—she was still sick and struggled to breathe and gain weight.

Baby Ayat before surgery When Ayat was two months old her parents travelled to Benghazi to see one of Libya’s few pediatric cardiologists, Dr Naema, and she advised urgent surgery and started some medicines that would help. Ayat’s parents struggled with what to do next—they have three other children who need to be cared for and traveling to Tripoli was out of the question–the region is just too unstable. Ayat’s parents decided to go to Egypt and search for help there.

In Egypt, they were again told just how sick their little girl was and that surgery was the only way to save her life. The wanted her to have the surgery but in Egypt the cost of the surgery was $40,000—way out of their reach. And so they returned home to Libya with little hope of saving their baby.

Then in May of this year, Dr Naema from Benghazi called and told them that a foreign team of cardiac specialists would be traveling to Tobruk to do heart surgery on children and she wanted them to bring Ayat to see what could be done. Ayat was seen by the Cardiac Alliance team in the second week of May and had the first of the two operations she will need to fix her heart. Ayat was so sick by the time she finally had surgery that she spent a month recovering in the ICU in Tobruk with our Cardiac Alliance team. But there is a happy ending to this story- Ayat is now well and at home with her parents.

Nurse Stacey and Ayat

Ayat Recovering in ICU

Ayat Going HomeAyat has had to struggle to survive—we are very glad she is a little fighter. Together, we can make it possible for children like Ayat to have the first story! At Cardiac Alliance we train local Doctors and Nurses to look after children with heart disease wherever they are and you can help.

Help us change the story for children like Ayat around the world by volunteering with us on our next trip or Donate financially today and be a part of giving Happy Beginnings  as well as Happy Endings.

Volunteer Story- Christine

Volunteer Story- Christine

By Christine Motschman Wanner

Dedicated to my heart warriors Ellie and Kurtis!

Christine

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.

Christine with local team 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.

Christine receives award from local hospitalIn 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.

Children with parentsI 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.