Before I began this journey, I thought I had no time, I thought it was not relevant, and I thought it was not for me. Now I know that this work has made me a better clinician and person. Most importantly, it created a spark and I began thinking and imagining what else I could do in the developing world. I challenge you to think differently about what we do and can do and how it can make us better.
My first experience was in 2012 when I traveled to the Sub-Saharan Africa Cardiac Surgery in Uganda. I learned that this is the most economically challenged region in the world, facing limited health care infrastructure, widespread malnutrition, HIV/AIDS pandemic, unstable politics and war, and a very high infant and maternal mortality. I learned that 93% of children in the world can’t get the cardiac surgery they need. I asked myself, “How can we help?”
My colleague, Craig Sable, who started program built it on the premise that no child amenable to single stage life altering cardiac intervention should be denied care and his team has helped over 200 patients that needed surgery.
With this inspiration I worked to help develop a sustainable CHD Surgery Program in Zambia. Bill Harmon and I visited in September 2015. We met with Department, Hospital and Government officials, recommended a stakeholders meeting, and with Rob Raylman’s leadership Gift of Life raised $120,000 to fund 20 children to go India for surgery to raise awareness.
I returned for a screening trip in March 2016 with my colleague Christine Saunders. Our team provided 3 days of screening and saw 58 patients, making 20 surgeries in India and 5 surgeries in Italy possible.
During my travels I have spent time reflecting on my experience. I’d like to share a few journal entries from my first trip:
Day 1- Words don’t describe this place. Seems like a regular city then you realize most people are walking or on small motor bikes. Toddlers sitting along the street side- covered with dust- begging. How can I not cry but I walked on…. The trip is inspiring to think about what is possible…
Day 2- Most amazing day as a pediatric cardiologist in my entire career. I have never been in a clinic with so many severe un-operated and undiagnosed patients. Some we can help and some we cannot…
Day 3- I saw the regular children’s ward today. Beds next to beds with no room in between them and child after child who looks desperately ill.….The building looks like something that would be abandoned any place else…
Day 5- Another overwhelming day in clinic. So many unrepaired kids but I also got to see results of our work…… I sent two kids for the first Balloon valvolplasty for PS in the country. Cool stuff.
Day 6 -I went to the wards to see some patients today. I saw a newborn with undiagnosed cyanotic CHD. We didn’t have time to figure it out and even if we did there is no treatment….. I want to go back to the wards and see more patients. I cannot get enough…..
I urge you to get involved. Please let me know if you have questions or would like more information.
Check out the Healing Little Hearts in Zambia report and learn about the 20 Zambian children who now have the hope of a healthy heart!
Learn more about my trip details and the ripples and connections that have come from this experience.
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