Blog : heart surgery

Witnessing Sustainability in Libya

Two brothers, Four heart defects.

In 2012, we met Abdul, a Libyan boy who was born with four heart defects, called Tetralogy of Fallot. Dr Kathleen Fenton operated on Abdul alongside Libyan pediatric cardiac surgeon Dr Wejdan Abou Amer. Because his heart defects were diagnosed late, Abdul was very sick following his surgery and remained in the ICU for many days. Our team was scheduled to leave the country, but Dr Fenton changed her flight to stay and help the Libyan team care for Abdul. 

Abdul, 2012

In June, our team returned to Benghazi and met Abdul’s little brother Mohammed. Mohammed has also been diagnosed with Tetralogy of Fallot. His parents were devastated to learn their second son also had a life threatening heart defect. It is “life threatening” because he lives in war-torn Libya with limited basic health care available, let alone pediatric heart surgery. 

Mohammed, 2017

Since our team has been visiting Libya and educating the local Libyan medical professionals for several years, we are witnessing the magic our work accomplishes. Mohammed needs a type of surgical procedure that the local Libyan surgeon Dr Wejdan can now perform on her own! Dr Fenton collaborated with the Libyan team and determined that Mohammed’s surgery can be performed by Dr Wejdan after our team leaves the country. From our continued teaching, she has developed the skills to do this, and the ICU team has the skills necessary to care for a patient like Mohammed. 

Dr Wejdan and Dr Fenton operating in Libya.

Without our continued perseverance to travel to Libya, children like Mohammed and his brother Abdul would not survive. There would be no miraculous story to tell. 

And by the way, Abdul is now 6 years old and attending school! 

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.

Commitment to Sustainability

Commitment to Sustainability

 

Recognizing that congenital heart disease requires lifelong care, Novick Cardiac Alliance continues to return to our partner sites multiple times per year over several years, because of children like Ahmed.


Dr. Novick first met Ahmed in 2010, when he was 5 years old. Ahmed was born in Nasiriyah, Iraq with a complex heart defect. Similar to most tragic truths in the developing world, there were no doctors in Iraq that could help their son. Ahmed’s parents felt hopeless watching their little boy constantly out of breath and not gaining weight like their four other healthy children.
Then they learned that an American team was coming to the city of Sulaymaniyah in northern Iraq. Ahmed’s parents traveled over 10 hours by car in the hopes of finally giving their son a chance to receive the heart surgery he desperately needed. Dr. Novick performed Ahmed’s first surgery in August 2010 in Sulaymaniyah, alongside Iraqi surgeons. Ahmed recovered well after this surgery and was a healthy boy as he grew up in Nasiriyah. About a year ago, Ahmed began experiencing the same symptoms of heart failure, coughing a lot and often extremely tired. Now in 2015, there were Iraqi pediatric cardiac surgeons operating, but Ahmed’s condition was too complex for these novice Iraqi surgeons. Once again, Ahmed would have to wait for external aid. And once again, Dr. Novick came to the rescue.

Ahmed received a second chance at a healthy life when Novick Cardiac Alliance operated on him in Karbala, Iraq in January 2017. Ahmed was such a joyful boy to care for in the ICU. He was always in high spirits. His first time out of bed he danced and stomped around the ICU in pure joy to be alive. Every time we saw him on the ward, he wanted to tell us how well he was doing. Though we didn’t speak Arabic, we understood his fist in the air accompanied by a loud “roar” was his way of proving to us that his heart condition would not defeat him!

Children with congenital heart defects like Ahmed require continued follow up visits with a cardiologist. When a child is born with a broken heart, they can develop symptoms in the future, even if they’ve had surgery. Some children will need to have more than one surgery in their lifetime. This is why Novick Cardiac Alliance aims to educate the local medical team so that they can provide the necessary care for children like Ahmed.

You can help us to build sustainable health care solutions for children like Ahmed around the world.

Meet Narjis, our first patient of 2017!

Meet Narjis, our first patient of 2017!

Narjis was born in Baghdad, Iraq in October 2016. When she was about two weeks old, her parents Akar and Nor Maseer noticed she was breathing fast. They took her to the doctor and an echocardiogram showed she had two holes in her heart, an atrial septal defect and ventricular septal defect. The doctor gave her medicines and told the family to return in 1 week. After this week, Narjis did not improve and the doctor said she needed surgery. Unfortunately, there is no hospital or heart surgeon available for babies in Iraq, so doctors advised Narjis’ parents to take her outside Iraq.

Advocating for his daughter, Narjis’ father Akar found a new doctor in Baghdad, but this doctor said her lung pressures were too high and surgery would now be impossible. Not losing hope, Akar found yet another doctor for his daughter, but still the same answer: his family must travel outside of Iraq for her surgery, and if they didn’t she may not survive until her 1st birthday. At two months old, Narjis barely weighed as much as a newborn baby because of her heart defect.

Still searching everywhere for a better solution, Narjis’ father saw an advertisement on Facebook from Al Kafeel Super Specialty Hospital in Karbala with the news that Dr Novick and his team would be coming to provide heart surgeries for children. Narjis’ parents packed their bags and drove to Karbala to meet our cardiologist on the first day of our arrival. Her heart surgery was scheduled for the next day.

Now 3 months old, Narjis received her life-saving heart surgery to close those two large holes on January 16th. She recovered quickly and was back in her mother’s arms on the ward within two days. Narjis’s parents are very thankful that their sweet little daughter is healing and eating better. Just two weeks ago they were fearful they may lose their newborn baby, and now they see her future is bright.

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.

Dr's discussing Patients

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.

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!

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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A Video Update From Dr. Novick In Libya

A Video Update From Dr. Novick In Libya

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.