Blog : Libya

Before & After: Taleen’s Surgery Made All The Difference!

Before & After: Taleen’s Surgery Made All The Difference!

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Every year in Libya, an estimated 400 – 600 babies are born whose tiny little hearts need medical care—and often surgery—within the first year of life.

Babies just like Taleen.

Precision is vital in any heart surgery. But when the patient is a baby, the stakes are even higher… and the margin of error slimmer.

Some kids, however, can’t afford to wait until they’ve gotten bigger.

There was nothing simple about Taleen’s operation in Libya last November. There were several anxious days after her surgery, when she hovered precariously between the edge of a cliff and the road to recovery.

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Taleen is a fighter, though. Her transformation from broken heart to healthy heart did not come easily, but it came—and it was remarkable.

A few days after doctors operated on her tiny heart, Taleen was taking a bottle…

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Locking eyes with her mom…

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And wriggling around like she had some place to go.

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And you know what? Taleen did have somewhere to go: home.

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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…”

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!

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.

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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.

Surgery and Beyond

Surgery and Beyond

The picture of a child with a healed heart is a simple expression of our purpose, however what is often more difficult to show is the ‘behind the scenes’ work we do that is vital to the success of our programs. At Cardiac Alliance we believe that by educating and collaborating with local healthcare teams, we can help to build sustainable pediatric cardiac care services that are capable of caring for hundreds of children with heart defects every year.

Happy child after surgery
Happy child after surgery

The surgery is fascinating and the children are cute but it is the collaboration with the local staff and the growth we see in their team that we, the Cardiac Alliance staff and volunteers find the most exciting.

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Dr. Novick collaborating with team

Each trip begins with the arrival of the Cardiac Alliance team. On our recent trip to Macedonia, Frank Molloy our PICU Nurse Practitioner and Educator first walked our volunteer team through the surgical unit in the hospital and shared the local protocols. Frank could see many changes that had occurred in the 2 months since our last visit- better organization of supplies, two new nurses, the newly developed quick guide “cheat sheets” for the team to refer to, even new decorations in the Pediatric ICU!

Frank teaching Macedonian team
Frank teaching Macedonian team

With each patient, the Cardiac Alliance team makes sure that the local nurses and doctors are thoroughly involved. The local team in each site already has methods that they are used to and comfortable with and our international volunteers will have come with experience and new ideas to share. We believe that by encouraging the local team to walk through the problem and offer solutions themselves with the assistance of our team, we teach more than we could with a list of orders or a checklist.

Team members from Libya
Team members from LIbya

On our trips, time is rarely disposable so a lot of the learning is done hands on in the clinical setting though we often hold lectures and small workshops. The key to a successful trip is the development of professional relationships with the local team built on mutual respect, understanding and a common goal. We plan to visit each of our partner sites multiple times per year for several years and with time the local team becomes more independent and confident in their ability to manage the patients. This model of sustained, intermittent support has been very successful for us and now a number of our volunteers come from previously assisted sites.

Volunteers in hospital
Volunteers in hospital

At Cardiac Alliance we believe that every child matters but doing surgery on one child is not enough! By educating local healthcare professionals and empowering them to provide high quality care in their own region utilizing the available resources, we can ensure that the next hundred children (and the hundred after that) with heart disease have hope and access to the care they each deserve no matter where they are born. You can be a part of changing lives! Volunteer with us or Donate  today and help us fill the world with Happy hearts!

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!

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.

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