On October 6, 2013, CardioStart International performed their 11th Cardiac surgery mission to Arequipa Peru under the direction of Dr. Mariano Brizzio. A team of 28 volunteers hailing from 5 countries joined together at Honorio Delgado Hospital to give the gift of life to 10 adults and 2 children. Many of the cases were multiple cardiac surgery interventions yet all did well and were discharged within a week of the team leaving the country. The team struggled with a lack of disposables, which were held in customs with the 40-foot container shipped from CardioStarts’ Tampa warehouse. This seasoned crew of volunteers made due in difficult circumstances. These 12 patients and their families were extremely grateful for the opportunity for surgical repair/replacement of rheumatic diseased heart valves and congenital heart defects.
One volunteers story
CardioStarts’ mission team brings volunteers from all countries and career specialties including a select few students who come for the infusion of education and experience of their life. This mission was no different for Emily Harper, premed student at the University of Oregon.
Emily was spending special time on the mission with her father, Dr. Richard Harper, Emergency Room Chief and Professor at the VA and Oregon Health & Sciences University. He, a seasoned mission veteran was part of the outreach team helping to meet medical needs of an aging population in the depths of Colca Canyon in a city known as Cabanaconde. Located three hours away by grueling bus ride from Arequipa (White City) is the canyon, twice as deep as the U.S. Grand Canyon. (3960 feet /1200 m) Known as The Lost Valley of the Incas, The Valley of Wonders, The Valley of Fire and the Territory of the Condor: it is visited annually for the grand show put on each evening and early morning as the Condors do their hunting in a wondrous display of flight making this place one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Sharing this space is an indigenous people who maintain their old way of life as they have for hundreds of years. Like many distant small villages, very few of the young stay, most drawn to an easier way of life. Those that remain suffer the hardship of the environment, isolation and lack of infrastructure in the city.
Their medical care is a small clinic, which does everything from dental extractions to childbirth and emergencies. CardioStart Internationals’ outreach team was there to provide vital equipment, supplies and medical education to the clinic staff to help care for the remaining citizens. Students and other volunteers under the supervision of seasoned practitioners instructed in public health programs including dental hygiene. Each villager was provided the necessary supplies to care for their oral hygiene and those of their families. Cardiovascular science has established that good oral hygiene is necessary for cardiovascular health. With no real ability to treat cardiovascular disease, prevention is key here.
As the volunteers completed their days of work some wondered if teaching these basic skills were of any use. Would these people really “buy in” to this new program? Emily too, wondered. She said to her father as the bus was heading home, “Dad, I wonder if we did any good for these people?” And as they rounded the corner to head out of town for the long journey they see a mother hunched over brushing her son’s teeth beside a hut where they lived. It appears that helped at least this little one. Follow up visits and time will tell.
Why is the more difficult path often the most rewarding? It is this path, made up of medical challenges, culture and language barriers and incomprehensible lack of current health and technology standards found in westernized countries that we find CardioStart volunteers walking.
What makes a CardioStart volunteer?
There may not be a stereotype of a CardioStart volunteer. But one thing is certain: they are called to serve.
Sher Stiles, a critical care nurse living in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, has participated in two CardioStart missions—to Vietnam and Uganda—and will serve as Mission and Education Coordinator on the April trip to Ghana in western Africa.
“It’s hard to put into words what CardioStart has done for me. I’ve always had a strong sense of service. It started when I was a young girl, reading medical books to a blind elderly woman. This grew into being a physical caregiver to her when she developed gangrene from diabetes complications. Though she paid me for my services, I felt like I should have paid her because of the knowledge and experience I gained. Even as a young girl, I realized that I was meant to do this work, to serve in this way. My strength, my courage, my desire to help others was nurtured through this very special woman, my patient and my dear friend.” [Read more...]
Lots of stress today, one of our patients is not doing well after his surgery, and the team is filled with sorrow and worry. So much about the medical field that I am unaware of…the sheer responsibility of someone’s life. Yet I walk around the hospital and find smiles and kindness from the people here. One woman came up to me to thank the Cardiostart team for coming all this way and to say what a difference the surgery made in her life.
The waiting rooms hold so many people — maybe 30-40 people– all waiting to see a doctor. They wear their best clothes and the family comes with them. The various halls in the hospital have families huddled together and someone from the family, usually the mom, sleeps on the floor next to their child or husband or mom. No one is alone at this hospital. The heart area has one big ward with 12 beds and everyone seems to talk to each other. There is no privacy. Families bring their own sheets and blankets and food. They launder their own sheets and then put them on the lawn to dry, which works if there is not a torrential rain. If they need tubing for an IV, they send the family out to purchase it. But through all the waiting, the sitting on hard benches, the worrying how they can afford the care, still I see smiles. [Read more...]
Van Tran, one of our medical data people, interviews every one of our patients about their socio-economic status. Some people want to talk and others just want to answer the questions. Ologi, 36 yr old, told his soldier’s tale. At 14 he became a soldier. Why? He wasn’t swept away or stolen but felt the need to defend his country against rebel activities and he was proud of being a soldier — at 14. He ran away from his family and didn’t let them know where he was for three years. They probably thought he was dead.
Ologi is single but he plans on marrying in a year. Do you have a girlfriend, I asked? “No, but my army friends will help me make a match.” He lives on the millitary compound and he can request to see his family when he has the money. As a military officer, all of his education is obtained from the military. As a infantry commander he trains new soldiers and goes to different districts to recruit. He feels happy with his work and his life and hopes that this surgery will not hurt his career. [Read more...]
I’ve talked about the amazing team Cardiostart brings to Uganda. Two of those people, Ashad from Pakistan and Sandy from the USA, have a huge responsibility. They are biomedical engineers and their job is to fix all the machines and to teach and collaborate with the one biomedical engineer employed by the hospital. It is an enormous job and responsibility. Ashad is MacGyver or just Magic. And if you think about heart surgery, you know how important all the machines are to patients. It is a crucial part of the success of Cardiostart. The organization sent two shipments of donated equipment to Mulago Hospital earlier in the year. All of the complicated machinery requires constant vigilance. With a ‘graveyard’ of broken down equipment some of which just needs to be fixed, the issue of what to send is enormous. [Read more...]
I met Dr. Aubyn Marath in 2006 when I participated in my first CardioStart mission to Arequipa, Peru. He seemed attractive, energetic, and visionary. In the subsequent six years, I have come to see him as the most altruistic, compassionate, and humanitarian person I have ever met.
Much of my relationship with Aubyn has taken place in clinical settings. His approach to complex clinical problems is thoughtful and resourceful. For patients with complex congenital heart disease, Aubyn draws from a wealth of clinical and surgical experience offering fresh insight into technical solutions of complicated problems. He is the same way with the CardioStart organization. It seems his deep humanitarian instincts drive him to think out-of-the-box and to seek solutions that had not been previously considered. [Read more...]
I cannot believe we will be celebrating CardioStart’s 11th mission to Honorio Delgado Hospital in Arequipa, Peru, later this month.
I clearly remember CardioStart’s first mission. It really felt like a different world. The teammates became like family to me in the experience. Just to add to the new challenges it was the first time I had the responsibility in leading a mission. My co-leader was my rock though and we got through it together.
From housing issues to building an ICU from scratch we learned tremendous lessons, which continue to enrich our knowledge for future missions.
Last November we had a patient named Vu. Vu received a human valve transplant from a deceased American. This procedure was the first human valve transplant done in Vietnam. During the time Vu’s stay, I had the opportunity to chat with his father. We discovered that his father and I were not only both stationed in Da Nang during the Vietnam war, but also stationed on opposite sides at the Hai Van Pass. My unit’s responsibility was to destroy any troops and supplies coming through from the north. His job was to protect those troops and supplies. We realized there was a three-month period that we were probably shooting at each other. So during the Vietnam war we were enemies…and we were both bad shots so that’s likely why we’re still here! [Read more...]