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During their recent two-week medical mission to Rwanda, members of Team Heart witnessed something they only dreamt about when their work in Africa began five years ago: Gathered around the operating table was a team of Rwandan physicians and nurses, the majority of whom were trained by Team Heart.
“Dr. (Chip) Bolman was standing in the OR, and to his side was a Rwandan surgical resident. A Rwandan nurse was assisting, at the head of the table was a Rwandan anesthesiologist who is midway through his training with the BWH team, and helping with perfusion was a Rwandan returning from training in India. It was truly a remarkable moment,” said Leslie Sabatino, BSN, RN, of BWH’s Cardiac Surgery Intensive Care Unit.
Now officially halfway through a 10-year commitment with King Faisal Hospital in Kigali and the Rwandan Ministry of Health, Team Heart is helping the hospital to set up a self-sustaining cardiac surgery program to serve the thousands of Rwandans desperately in need of life-saving heart surgery. Of the nearly 40 volunteers who travel to Rwanda with Team Heart, most are from BWH, and others are from Mass General and several hospitals from across the U.S.
“In many ways, this was our most successful trip yet. Things went incredibly smoothly,” said Ceeya Patton-Bolman, MSN, RN, program coordinator for Team Heart. “The success has much to do with support from the Brigham, and especially a partnership with Materials Management in the OR. We were able to take the same high-quality items that we’re used to using on a daily basis to Rwanda, which is something that is just as important as transferring skills. If we don’t have the equipment, the best surgeon in the world can’t do what’s necessary.”
Sara Stankiewicz, RN, of Tower 3BC, has traveled with Team Heart for the past four years. While she agrees that the changes seen at King Faisal Hospital, and in Rwanda in general, speak volumes about how far the country has come medically, she says one thing has remained constant throughout all of the trips.
“Patients are truly facing death if they don’t get this surgery, and they are just so grateful for everything, from the technologies to the hospital to the people who help make them better,” Stankiewicz said. “That’s the reason we keep going back.”
Read about Team Heart Cardiac Surgery Program.