Blog : CHD

Cardiac Alliance returns to Ecuador

 

With our trip sponsors With Every Heartbeat, The Fialeny Foundation

Novick Cardiac Alliance worked at Hospital del Nino’s Dr. Francisco Ycaza Bustamante in Guayaquil, Ecuador April 28 – May 12, 2018. This was the first time our team returned to Hospital del Nino since 2014. This trip was made possible by the generous donations from our partners “With Every Heartbeat, the Fialeny Foundation” and support from Ecuadorian charity “Fundacion El Cielo Para Los Ninos.”  Our team consisted of 17 medical volunteers from 12 different centers in the USA and Argentina. 

 

Over the two week trip, NCA Cardiologist Dr Mark Gellat evaluated nearly 70 children, performing echocardiograms and assessing these children for heart defects. Led by NCA pediatric heart surgeon Dr Marcelo Cardarelli, fifteen children received life-saving heart surgery in 8 days of operation. We were pleased to discover that the local team in Guayaquil had been continuing their education and teaching new staff skills to become more competent in pediatric cardiac care and surgery. The local surgeon Dr Hernan Montero has been operating in the absence of visiting teams and the ICU has been led by Venezuelan Intensivist Ricardo Briceno. Each morning during patient rounds, Dr Briceno quizzes nurses and new doctors about a specific defect or complication in order to expand their critical thinking skills.

The ICU team was led by PICU nurse educators Farzana Shah and Roslyn Rivera. Our ICU physicians and nurses provided 24 hour care for these children before and after surgery the entire two weeks. Many of the children were discharged from the hospital within 48 hours of surgery. The majority of the children we operated during this trip were between 5-12 years old, with simple heart defects that require surgery in order for them to survive into adulthood. These children have been on a waiting list for surgery for several years, but there are not enough surgeons in Ecuador to provide surgery. The babies born with more complex heart defects are often not as lucky. Complex heart defects require early intervention for babies to survive to age one. Our trip to Guayaquil helped enhance the medical skills of the surgeons, doctors, and nurses so they can continue to provide treatment for children with heart disease in their country. 

Milan is a baby with a complex heart defect that requires immediate surgery to survive.

For four months, Milan’s mother watched her baby turned dark blue whenever he would cry. Several times, she took him to the doctor in the village where they live, but the doctor would say that Milan would “grow out of it.” Searching for answers, Milan’s family brought him to the pay-clinic in Guayaquil. There the doctors told her he had a serious problem with his heart and he needed to see the cardiologist at the Bustamante Children’s Hospital. As if by fate, the next day, NCA cardiologist Dr Gellat saw Milan. Just from seeing his blue pale appearance, Dr Gellat knew immediately that Milan did indeed have a complex heart defect. The echocardiogram showed that Milan had pulmonary atresia, meaning blood was not flowing the normal way into his lungs to receive oxygen. His blue color was from severe lack of oxygenated blood. Our team discussed a plan and Milan received surgery to create a pathway for blood to flow to his lungs. 

Milan had a difficult recovery after his surgery, but was doing very well when our team left the country. We have received updates from Milan’s parents that is now home and happily growing. His parents were immensely happy to see their baby boy finally looking well.

It’s babies like Milan that remind us how desperately advanced pediatric cardiac care is needed in developing countries. Our teams strive to educate local teams about pediatric cardiology so that babies like Milan can be properly diagnosed and treated early, and given a chance to survive. 

Volunteer Story – Erin Serrano

PICU nurse Erin Serrano recently joined our team on her first medical mission trip to Ukraine. Erin shares her unique story about why she began her career as a pediatric cardiac nurse and how volunteering with Novick Cardiac Alliance was a dream her entire life.

My journey to pursue a career in the Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Unit began the day I was born. Just a few days after birth, I was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect and underwent multiple cardiac surgeries and procedures to save my life. Volunteering with Novick Cardiac Alliance to help patients and families with similar stories as my own wasn’t a choice, it was something I knew I had to do. It was my destiny. 

Coming to Ukraine and stepping into a healthcare system that I knew nothing about was one of the most challenging things I have ever done. After just a few days, I realized that leaving my comfort zone was more than worth it. From the first day that we arrived at the hospital, I learned just how resourceful the staff members had to be, considering their limited medical supplies, equipment, and medications. Imagine being a parent of a child requiring cardiac surgery and you are responsible for providing part of their medical supplies because the hospital simply cannot obtain enough. I was astounded to see the local nurses using resterilized supplies. These supplies would most certainly be thrown away after one use in the United States. I realize that we take for granted the abundance of simple supplies and they are precious items in developing countries like Ukraine. 

Despite the obvious language barrier that exists, Cardiac Alliance has been successful in educating the Ukrainian medical team in everything from basic ICU care to the most complex cardiac surgeries. To be a part of that education process was the most rewarding part of my trip. 

One out of every 100 babies is born with a congenital heart defect and CHD’s are the most common cause of infant death among birth defects. If I have helped just one nurse better their practice while caring for these patients, then I know my time spent was worthwhile. I certainly hope I can volunteer with Cardiac Alliance again and again. Thank you NCA for allowing me to be a part of your incredible mission and to the entire Ukrainian team for teaching me more than I could have ever imagined. 

Cardiac Alliance’s collaboration in war-torn Benghazi brings sustainable healthcare to children

Reuters journalist Ayman al-Warfalli recently interviewed our team in Libya, where there are “more than 300 kids waiting for open heart surgery, maybe 400.” Cardiac Alliance strives to maintain our collaboration with the hospital in Benghazi to care for these children in need.

Read the Reuters article to learn about the desperate need for sustainable healthcare in Libya.

With your support, we can continue our education programs to save more children in countries like Libya.

Two of the Most Important Aspects Of Our Work

Two of the Most Important Aspects Of Our Work

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!