Brooke Tracy, a perfusion student from the US, recently joined our team on a trip to Kharkiv, Ukraine. She describes her experience as a student on her first medical mission trip.
“There are no words to describe how amazing and influential my first mission trip with the Novick Cardiac Alliance was, but I can say with absolute certainty I would recommend it to anyone! Not only was the team amazing and so well versed in healthcare skills, but they also were some of the most empathetic and passionate people I have had the opportunity to work alongside. Not to mention the local Ukrainian team. They all were very excited to learn from NCA in ways to improve their practice, and they were incredibly welcoming and appreciative of all that NCA has done for their hospital system.
As a perfusion student, I didn’t really know what to expect as our field is pretty dependent upon technology and supplies. I had done some research on the Ukrainian healthcare system, but was vastly underprepared when it came to fully understanding the difficulties in which the local team has in acquiring, what in our practice, is simple equipment. But the lack of equipment never stumped the local perfusionist. Alex and Olga were some of the most innovative perfusionists I’d ever met. In order to make the most of each piece of equipment, their circuit design and construction was innovative. Both were incredibly knowledgeable, but it was humbling to see how much they each were looking to learn more and grow in their practice.”
What she gained as a student:
“In the end, the most inspiring thing about this trip for me was to see the passion and moral of the local team. The nurses were so compassionate and went out of their way to comfort their patients. They really did an amazing job, especially those that were medical students working night shift to gain experience! You could tell that this hospital served their local community in more than just physical care, as the empathy was overflowing with every patient. The parents were allowed back in the ICU with their children post-op and it made a world of difference in the recovery of our patients.
After returning from this trip, not only had I gained a ton of knowledge and skills from both the NCA team and the local team, but I also had a better appreciation for all of the resources that we have at our disposal in the US. I have developed some new practices and little tricks that make my perfusion practice more resourceful and limit my medical waste since returning from the mission.
I can not only recommend missions to anyone in the field, but especially to students because I feel that it gives you a advantage to being a resourceful, motivated, and passionate perfusionist, which is exactly what this world needs more of.”
-Brooke Tracy, Perfusion Student, South Carolina, USA
There are thousands of children with undiagnosed heart defects waiting for someone to find them to save their lives. On our inaugural trip to Lebanon, Cardiac Alliance met a child who traveled from West Africa to southern Lebanon in search of a definite diagnosis and hopefully life-saving surgery. How was is that four-year-old Emmanuel, or E-man as his village calls him, who was so sick that he would sleep most of the day, could possibly travel across the entire continent of Africa?! This is a story of perseverance that emphasizes each person’s ability to help a child in need, even when the task seems dauntingly impossible.
Emmanuel was born in July 2013 in the small village of Garplay, Liberia. His mother Kuku describes his inability to eat as an infant, needing to take breaks to breathe rapidly and he didn’t walk until age two. His family was finally able to travel to Monrovia, the capitol of Liberia to find a specialist. Emmanuel was presumed to have hole in his heart, though there is no an echocardiogram machine anywhere in the country to actually check his heart. His symptoms of extreme difficulty breathing, keeping his oxygen levels high enough, and playing with his 4 siblings were tell-tale signs. He would often pass out for hours at a time while his family would gather around and pray over him until he came to.
Liberia was ravaged for 14 years during a civil war from 1989-2003. Because of this war, the country was left with no electricity or running water and very little medical care. While the country is now growing and improving slowly, the medical system is still very primitive in many areas. When it came to E-man, there were no services available to help him, the only way for him to get healing was to go out of Liberia. But that would cost money and with the majority of Liberians being subsistence farmers, including E-man’s parents, Emmanuel and Kuku, saving the money to get heart surgery in another country would be impossible. So they waited and prayed. For four years, E-man miraculously kept fighting; every time he saw a plane overhead, he would say, “My plane is coming to get me!”
This is where Emily and Brian from Florida, USA enter the picture. Emily and Brian work on the child sponsorship team for Light Evangelism Ministry and traveled to Liberia in March 2017. Emily describes meeting E-man for the first time, as “..heartbreaking. He was laying on a bench, gasping for air, and whimpering. His lips were blue. He didn’t even have the energy to sit up.” Emily and her organization committed right then and there to exhaust all efforts to get surgery for E-man.
They made dozens of phone calls, just stabbing in the dark, trying to find a hospital in America that would work pro bono to save this child. After months of trying, they finally found a hospital in Florida willing to do the surgery, but were quickly devastated when the American Embassy in Liberia told us they would not grant a medical visa for any reason.
Back to square one. After putting out a general plea on Facebook, one of Emily’s friends connected her with Elizabeth Novick, a founder of Novick Cardiac Alliance and wife of Dr. Bill Novick. Dr Novick accepted to repair E-man’s heart, as long as they could get him to any of the locations where Novick Cardiac Alliance was working. The first available country was Libya, but within days of travel, the visa fell through. Ukraine was next. But their hopes were quickly dashed as they found out E-man and Kuku would have to fly to Senegal to get a visa for Ukraine. The extra travel would be impossible for E-man in his condition and the money for the extra flights was more than anyone could afford.
After some research, Emily discovered that Lebanon had an embassy in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city! Now, just three weeks before Cardiac Alliance was scheduled to be in Lebanon, Emily and her organization were pressed for time to raise the money to fly E-man across the continent.
On October 11, Kuku called Emily. E-man had had a horrible couple of days. He wasn’t eating. He was sleeping a lot and was not able to get off the floor. He was so very sick. Again Emily took to Facebook and posted a video explaining the call she’d just received. The money started to pour in, and in just one day, raised more than the amount they needed! They were fully funded, and E-man would have his surgery!
One more hurdle. The Visas. Emmanuel and Kuku went to the Embassy and were told the man who wrote the letter from the Lebanese hospital would have to call the Embassy to confirm the validity of the case. From America, Emily called Rashaya Governmental Hospital and was connected with the hospital medical director Dr. Yasser Ammar. Dr. Ammar called the Embassy, and E-man and Kuku were immediately granted their visas… just 5 minutes before the Embassy was closing for the day!
No more hurdles. No more mountains. E-man’s surgery was on its way.
Emmanuel arrived at Rashaya Governmental Hospital in southern Lebanon on October 23, and our team performed an echocardiogram and officially diagnosed E-man with tetralogy of fallot. This diagnosis explained why E-man would often squat when playing with his siblings, his body’s attempt to get more oxygen. His surgery was scheduled immediately.
On October 25, Emmanuel received his healing surgery and we know he has a beautiful future ahead of him. It is people as determined as Emily that can help us save these children. This story brings us encouragement that individual people in the world have the power to bring awareness and treatment for the number one birth defect, congenital heart defects.
We all have hopes that E-man will provide great change in his home country of Liberia one day!
Artur was born on the 1st of September in Luhansk, the easternmost city of Ukraine. Luhansk has been under the control of the separatist rebel group since 2014, and is known as “Luhansk People’s Republic.” This city was nearly destroyed by the war in 2014 and many public services are difficult to obtain, including quality care at hospitals.
When Artur was 5 days old, his mother noticed he was breathing very fast and turning blue. She took him to the hospital in Luhansk but the doctors were unable to give a definite diagnosis and sent him home. Weeks continued and Artur’s mother became more concerned with her baby’s blue color. Again she went to the hospital and after several tests, the doctor thought he noticed something wrong with Artur’s heart. Finally the doctor in Luhansk called the Kharkiv Cardiac Center. This doctor sent a photo of Artur’s chest x-ray to Kharkiv pediatric cardiac surgeon Olga Buchevna and she recommended Artur be transferred immediately to Kharkiv.
Upon his arrival at the hospital in Kharkiv, cardiologist Daria Kulikova performed a echocardiogram and diagnosed Artur with Transposition of the Great Arteries, plus a tiny ASD and tiny VSD. This heart defect usually must be repaired within two weeks of age, and Artur’s was very severe. He was not getting enough blood to his body or brain, with oxygen saturation levels barely 50%. His surgery would be complicated. Luckily our team arrived three days later and on October 9th, Artur received his life saving heart surgery. Kharkiv pediatric cardiac surgeon, Olga Buchevna, performed this surgery flawlessly with assistance from Cardiac Alliance surgeon Kathleen Fenton. Artur recovered quickly in the ICU and was drinking milk two days after surgery. His serious facial expressions proved to us that this little boy has a strong will to survive.
There are babies like Artur around the globe, fighting for their lives, waiting for medical assistance to mend their heart defects before it’s too late.
Each year, the American Society of Extracorporeal Technology offers a scholarship to one Perfusion student to travel on a medical mission trip with an organization of their choice. This year’s winner is perfusion student Kim Morris and she will be traveling with Novick Cardiac Alliance to Ukraine early next year.
Kim moved across the United States from Alaska to New York to pursue education in perfusion. From her experience, she has learned that “a successful perfusionist is reliant on gaining the trust of a room full of people that may come from completely different backgrounds. You treat your patient with your equipment and knowledge, but you also treat the surgeon and a room full of professionals with careful communication and a calm demeanor to ease a stressful situation.”
Several years ago, Kim was a medical volunteer in Ghana and from that experience realized she aspired to gain more personal knowledge to more directly help people in need on her next volunteer trip. Becoming a perfusionist was her answer. She now is feeling more qualified to utilize her skills to directly assist those in developing countries. Kim is excited to join Novick Cardiac Alliance as a perfusion student, honestly stating, “I’ve learned to participate in a highly skilled team to give a patient a permanent, life changing surgery.”
We look forward to having Kim join our team as a perfusion student in Ukraine!
Cardiac Alliance has been featured on ShareAmerica, a platform produced by the US Department of State. Our story has been shared to all the US Embassies worldwide. This particular story can be translated into seven different languages. Read the article on ShareAmerica to learn more about our life-saving work in war-torn areas.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Jordan Campbell- A writer and filmmaker travelled with us to Tobruk, Libya. His story was recently published in National Geographic Adventure. You can read the whole article below. With your helpwe can continue to support our projects in countries like Libya.