Blog : North Africa

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…”

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

Meet Munam, His City’s First-Ever Heart Surgery Recipient

Meet Munam, His City’s First-Ever Heart Surgery Recipient

This is Munam.

This lucky little guy just became the first open heart surgery recipient in the history of his city!

Having no access to treatment and very little money, Munam’s mother and father spent their savings renting cars and buying expensive Egyptian visas to travel back and forth across the border seeking care for their son. Despite the endless border-hopping, in the end Munam’s parents simply couldn’t afford the cost of surgery in Egypt.

Baby Munam after heart surgery

They had nearly given up hope when they heard about a ‘foreign team’ of heart specialists who were coming to do operations in their own city! Munam’s parents could hardly believe it, but they began to hope again.

Novick Cardiac Alliance arrived and, after assessing Munam, decided that Munam could have his operation and that he would be the very first operation! It was a complete success, and four days later he was ready to go home.

Shortly after Dr. Novick and the team provided Munam with surgery, his mother told us,

“My life was only night, but you brought the morning. Thank you!

Munam ready to go home

Are you ready to ‘bring the morning’ for more moms like Munam’s? Your donation helps us continue our lifesaving work around the world. Click here to give now.

Meet ‘Inoperable Marwa’

Meet ‘Inoperable Marwa’

As an infant, they heard a heart murmur.

But, after being examined at a local Libyan hospital, they cleared Marwa, saying she was perfectly healthy. But Marwa’s mother was never convinced.

With the eyes of a mother, she noticed how breathless Marwa became after short walks, how she turned blue when exercising. The family went in for another exam and found Marwa had a large VSD.

But then began the real challenge: finding surgery in a war-torn country after years of lost time.

The family looked abroad for surgery options, but as soon as doctors saw her pulmonary hypertension, they wouldn’t touch Marwa. Fellow Libyans in Tripoli refused, Egyptians refused, Jordanians refused. All said she was inoperable.

When they presented her to us, they thought she was hopeless, but they couldn’t stop trying.

Back in 2012, Marwa became the first double flap valve patch repair done in Libya when Dr. Novick and his team visited Benghazi. She did extremely well, has grown, and her follow up has been “perfectly unremarkable” according to Dr. Novick.

Marwa at her recent check up in Tobruk, Libya
This week, we followed up with Marwa and got to hear how she’s doing (not to mention the sweets her mom made for us!). Her mother still pays close attention and is delighted at the change in her daughter.

This the kind of impact we’re having in Libya, one child at a time! February is Heart Month—help us continue breaking new ground and saving children like Marwa by making a donation here.

Marwa at her recent check up in Tobruk, Libya

A Week Full of Firsts

Dr. Novick and Dr. Oakley, the Libyan Ministor of Health in the operating room
There’s something thrilling about a first-ever!

And when your hospital has never performed open heart surgery, you get a lot of firsts. This week, Cardiac Alliance is in the Libyan town of Tobruk, and the locals are all smiles at how much they’ve accomplished alongside our team in just a few days: a first-of-its-kind medical training mission in their city, the first open heart surgery in their city (adult or pediatric), and, most importantly, the first time they’ve been able to provide for their own children locally, without having to send them away.

The Tobruk and Benghazi team pose for a picture
Even after hundreds of trips and serving thousands of children, launching a new program never gets old! Come back over the next few days to see more excitement from Libya, and be sure to follow us on Facebook for real-time updates from around the world.

The Cardiac Alliance team members in Tobruk, Libya
The Cardiac Alliance team members in Tobruk, Libya
The Cardiac Alliance team members in Tobruk, Libya
The Cardiac Alliance team members in Tobruk, Libya