Blog : Volunteer

Volunteer Story – Natalie Constantin

By Natalie Constantin, PICU Nurse Volunteer, Melbourne Australia

Volunteering had been on my mind for about a year before I heard about Novick Cardiac Alliance. Friends of mine were planning on going on a trip to Tehran with NCA, and I picked their brains about what they were expecting and what NCA’s priorities were. On their return, I learned working closely with local teams, educating and upskilling their practice were at the forefront of the organisation. Deciding that I wanted to take the leap and join NCA, I sent off an email and was then asked to join them on a trip to Russia.

Not much can prepare you for what to expect when working with NCA in another country, far outside of your comfort zone. Equipment is different, or simply not available. You don’t have all your diagnostic tools around. Your stethoscope, hands and eyes become your best friend. You learn to identify a change in your patient without blood tests and scans, simply because they are not resources that is readily obtainable. You work with staff from different educational backgrounds, who have not had the opportunity to be orientated into a busy paediatric cardiac surgery unit under the guidance of preceptors and educators, there to answer your questions and guide your practice. But, the truth is, children with congenital heart defects are born around the globe every day, and just because a state-of-the-art centre doesn’t exist in their home country doesn’t mean that they are any less deserving of care and treatment. NCA fills that void, meeting locals at the level they are at, guiding them in clinic, theatres and the ICUs.

Education at ground level is continuous, with NCA staff always eager to answer questions, offer guidance and work side-by-side with local health professionals. My skills as a paediatric ICU nurse were welcome, and I was immediately welcomed as part of the crew. The focus is on preparing local teams to continue what NCA has started, with the priority being that children, wherever they are born, will be able to receive treatment, against the odds that borders, resources and lack of funds may bring.

Volunteering with NCA has given me a new awareness of how lucky we are in developed nations. I will always consider it a privilege to have worked alongside NCA in giving children a new lease on life, regardless of where they may call home.

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.
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!

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.

Roslyn’s Story

Roslyn’s Story

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Novick Cardiac Alliance PICU Nurse and Educator, Roslyn Rivera, BSN, RN remembers her experience with heart surgery as a child.

As a pediatric cardiac ICU nurse, I often find myself rocking crying babies just hours after their heart surgery, while I repeat the phrase “I know, I know…” in an attempt to calm them. I can honestly say I understand the pain and discomfort they feel with all the tubes and drains attached to their small bodies. I can say this, because I also have had open heart surgery to repair the congenital heart defects I was born with.

IMG_9231 (1)My story starts on a warm Southern California summer day when I was born in 1983. This was the day my parents learned that I had a heart murmur. I was born with a congenital heart defect called partial AV Canal. They were told the holes in my heart might close as I grew up, so surgery wasn’t necessary. But at the age of 3, I developed heart failure and had my first open heart surgery to repair my defect. My only memories from this surgery were of the times when I went to the playroom! It’s safe to say this is when I had my first thoughts of being a nurse when I grew up… This idea was made definite when I was 10 years old and had my second heart surgery. I noticed a faint scar on the chest of one of my nurses, and learned that she also had heart surgery. Hearing her story convinced me that I wanted to be in her shoes one day, as a nurse taking care of children after heart surgery.

IMG_9028Roslyn Age 10 - Hospital001From my hospitalizations as a child, I never recall feeling afraid. I believe this is because my nurses were always so caring, and talked or played with me to distract me from anything painful. I remember my pacing wires being pulled out of my chest. I remember the expressions of worry and fear on my parents faces and the kind nurses who comforted them. I trusted my nurses, and these memories of being a patient reverberate into my own nursing career.

I have never let my congenital heart defect hold me back in any way, in fact it has enhanced my life. I was fortunate enough to be born in a country where pediatric cardiac care was readily available, even in the early 1980s. This is why I travel to developing countries with medical teams providing heart surgery to children who would otherwise not receive care. I was that child in the hospital bed attached to wires and tubes, and now—as a nurse—I can truly relate to the children I care for. This has led me to continue my passion of helping children with heart disease in developing countries around the world.

 

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Dilya Remembers her Surgery

Dilya Remembers her Surgery

Dilya Cleveland was 11 years old when she first met Dr Novick and his team – 20 years later she has shared her story with us.

Dilya and Dr No

Although my surgery was performed in September 21, 1995, my mind holds strong memories and that experience will never be forgotten. I was visiting my local cardiologist since I can remember myself and I will never forget the day when my local doctor informed my parents and me that without the surgery I have only 6 months to live. It was July 1995. My parents were trying to gather money and possibly take me to Europe for the surgery, but financial situation was difficult and, honestly, I don’t think that it would’ve been possible. But God was looking over me and at the end of July my local cardiologist told us that the team of american doctors will be coming to Kazakhstan and performing free of charge cardiac surgeries. I was chosen to be one of their patients. My parents, all my relatives and I were absolutely thrilled with the news! Dilya as a child

Dr. No and his team arrived in beginning of September. I remember first time I saw Dr. No- he seemed so tall and his hands were so big compare to mine. He came in to the ward to evaluate a little baby with TOF and I was wondered how can a man with big hands can perform surgeries on those little babies – it seemed magical and almost impossible to an eleven year old girl. Dr. No was a wizard. He made impossible possible. And not only in the eyes of a child, but also in the eyes of my parents. Till this day my mom remembers how Dr. Novick was reassuring her that I will be able to live a normal life and not to worry about my heart defect any longer. And he was right, he kept his promise!

Dilya watching surgery

 The surgery and the whole experience not only gave me a second chance in life, but also gave me a purpose in life and helped me choose my future career. After the surgery I was interested in congenital heart defects, surgeries and medicine in general. Shortly after the surgery I started reading medical books and journals, and made a firm decision to pursue a career in the medical field. However, I had to walk different paths before I finally graduated as RN. Shortly after graduation I accepted a position as Peds ICU RN. While I was in nursing school, God gave me another gift – the ability to reconnect with Dr. Novick and become a volunteer on his team.

Dilya volunteering

 There will be never enough words to say thank you to Dr. Novick and his team for saving my life, the only way I can express my gratitude is to serve and help people in need through my job and volunteering.

You can help too- Donate to Cardiac Alliance or Volunteer with us and help more children like Dilya become whatever they want to be!

Volunteers Reflect On Their First Surgical Mission

Volunteers Reflect On Their First Surgical Mission

The Novick Cardiac Alliance team celebrating after a successful mission

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.”

Twinkies in Libya!

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.

Twinkies in Libya!

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.

Twinkies in Libya!

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.

Final thought?

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.

Amelie caring for a baby in Tobruk, Libya

Angela caring for a baby in Tobruk, Libya

Volunteer Story- A Vision of Nursing

Volunteer Story- A Vision of Nursing

By Amalie Smith

I’m not sure how to begin writing about my first volunteer trip with Cardiac Alliance. I could write about my feelings throughout the two weeks, the experience of working with the local nurses, the awesome Cardiac Alliance staff, patient stories, and more.

The first thing that struck me is the reality of having limited supplies and resources. At home, our stock seems endless. When I run out of something on the unit, I call central supply and get more. If we ran out, we’d have to get creative and make do with what we had by cutting, taping, cleaning and reusing, or simply going without. For example when we ran out of blood test cartridges, we had to rely on accurate physical assessment skills instead of lab tests. In addition to limited material supplies, I was stripped of my usual informational resources. When questions arose, there was no internet or computer to look up the answer. My team members became my sole resource.

Amalie teaching in ICU

The incredible teamwork and teaching that occurred are the other major things that stick out in my mind. I was the youngest and least experienced nurse in the group – both at working in PICU and at doing any sort of medical volunteering. Even so, I always felt supported by the other nurses, the nurse practitioner, and the intensivist. We all worked in the same room together, which at times was cramped and hectic. However, I think it led to better teamwork and teaching as everyone was always right there to lend a hand or to answer a question.

Amalie with other team members
Another thing that really struck me was how the doctor and NP on the trip often pitched in with things that are considered “nurses duties” at home. Without even asking, they would jump in and help transfer patients out of bed, figure out how to use pieces of equipment, or draw up medications. Most importantly, they were some of the best teachers I’ve spent time with.  It seems to me that this mutual respect and trust are the reasons why the Alliance staff nurses are so amazingly knowledgeable, critically thinking and confident.

Amalie in Theatre Libya

The thing I missed most about working at home was my ability to easily communicate with parents and children. One of the most rewarding things about nursing is comforting a worried mother, so a major language barrier can make you feel useless. Sometimes the only thing I could do was put my arm around a mother, and tell her that the baby was doing well using one or two Arabic words.

Amalie in ICU LibyaAs the other nurses had predicted, I initially felt very disoriented and scared to be without my hospital’s supplies, protocols and resources. But in the end,

I learned what pure nursing looks like.

It was challenging work, and I felt like a new graduate again at times but I believe it’s what I needed to get a vision of the kind of nurse that I can strive to be. I honestly hope I get the opportunity to go back for more.

Volunteer- Bubbles

Volunteer- Bubbles

Child with bubblesPeople often ask us at Cardiac Alliance what we like about our work. Our answers are many and varied- we love teaching and sharing our skills; working with children and helping to change their lives; working with families and sharing our hope for a better future and of course.. BUBBLES! Amongst the high ideals that we strive for and the high technology equipment we work with we use bubbles everyday.

Bubbles
They are a way to improve the lung function of the children we work with and keep them off the ventilator but they are also a way for our team to communicate with the children when we don’t speak their language. Fun, compassion and bubbles don’t need words but they can speak volumes. The children we look after need your expertise and time- Come volunteer with us- we have lots of work to do!

Nurse and child with BubblesBaby looking at bubbles

Once I was a patient – now I volunteer

IMG_0605For the past 19 years Dr. Novick and I have shared a unique bond. I was born in Kazakhstan and was diagnosed with congenital heart defect at age 2. When I met Dr. Novick, I was 11 years old, my health condition was very poor and my local doctors predicted that I had about six months left to live. On September 21, 1995 Dr. Novick and his team performed the long needed heart surgery. They literally saved my life!!!
While a nursing student, I reconnected with Dr. Novick. Imagine my joy when he invited me to join him on a medical mission trip to Russia!!! I tell you, life is full of surprises and miracles only if you are open for them. And now, I work as a Pediatric ICU nurse and frequently travel with Dr. Novick and his team. Nobody could’ve imagined that!


Dilya as a childAs a former patient, I can say for a fact, when all of you save a life through your support of Dr. Novick and his team, you are not only saving the life of an individual, but you are also saving someone’s child, parent, sister, and friend. You are saving dreams, you are saving futures, you are saving an array of possibilities that no one could anticipate. I truly believe that children whose lives are saved by Dr. Novick and the Novick Cardiac Alliance will never forget these gifts and sooner or later, they will release their own gifts into the world.
Once again, thank you for everything which you have done for me, Dr. Novick. I wish you and your organization to continue your amazing work and safe lives of those children in need. God Bless you!
Dilya Cleveland