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In This Issue:
Jean Baptiste,15, listens to his heart beat after surgery.
Outside a little coffee shop in the center of Kigali, Rwanda, Team Heart members found the greatest testament to the mission they pour their hearts into: Jean Paul, a young man who last year received a life-saving aortic valve replacement, healthy and smiling.
Previously unable to work or live a full life because of rheumatic heart disease, Jean Paul was one of Team Heart’s first patients in 2008 and now is earning a living and supporting his wife by working as a driver. “He is looking and feeling great,” said Suellen Breakey, PhD, RN, nurse coordinator for Cardiac Surgery and member of Team Heart, who spotted Jean Paul this April during the team’s second visit.
This year, the multidisciplinary Team Heart operated on 13 critically ill patients, performing one triple-valve and 11 double-valve repairs and replacements.
“We have pushed the envelope of what is possible here in this environment,” said R. Morton “Chip” Bolman, III, MD, chief of Cardiac Surgery and a leader of Team Heart. “It is an awesome privilege to take care of people who don’t even share our language, and yet are brave enough to trust us with their lives in exchange for a chance at a better, longer life. As a healer, one can ask for no greater gift than that, that we might be able to make a difference for people in such desperate need.”
The patients suffered from rheumatic heart failure resulting from untreated strep throat. It affects the heart valves, causing patients to slowly suffocate on the brink of death for years. Surgery is the only answer, and currently, there is no place to receive it in Rwanda.
“Most of our patients had pulmonary hypertension, and some were malnourished,” said anesthesiologist Nelson Thaemert, MD. “All had markedly abnormal hearts, and many were teens who were too short of breath or undernourished to grow.”
The patients came from across Rwanda, rural areas and the city, from mud huts with banana thatch roofs and tin roofs, for this life-saving surgery. Team Heart works in collaboration with King Faisal Hospital in Kigali and Operation Open Heart Australia, another group that performs heart surgery in Rwanda twice a year, and Partners In Health, Boston and Rwanda.
One patient, a school teacher, was a mother of three small children who was too fatigued to continue breast-feeding her infant. Another was a university student whose father was killed in the genocide. The student was encouraged to drop out of school because the school believed he would die of heart disease.
All 13 patients recovered from surgery, and they received encouragement during a visit from last year’s patients, all healthy and beaming, many with extra inches and pounds.
“The highlight of the mission for me was seeing all of last year’s patients come to the hospital to show us how well they are doing,” said Marie Caulfield, BSN, RN, who has been on the mission for two years as a nurse in the step-down unit. “Most of them are able to go to school and work again. It was such an emotional moment.”
Ceeya Patton-Bolman, MSN, RN, program coordinator for Team Heart, agreed. “There are moments in one’s life where one realizes that an experience is likely to be as rewarding as an experience can be,” she said of that day. “I thank every member of Team Heart—those who traveled with us, supported us financially and worked behind the scenes. This life-saving mission would not be possible without the compassion, dedication and drive of so many.”
Chip Bolman added, “I think I speak for the entire team when I say that this is the best thing we do in our lives.”
See more photos from Team Heart.
Team Heart 2009 members at King Faisal Hospital.