Imagine the City of New York without a cardiology or cardiac surgery center? That’s a reality for Rwanda, a nation of 11 million people, a population just over New York City’s. You can imagine the health crisis this nation finds itself in, the lives lost every year.
In Rwanda, rheumatic heart disease from untreated rheumatic or scarlet fever is prevalent because simple treatment with penicillin is not available. There are hundreds of young Rwandans who experience heart failure due to untreated rheumatic heart disease. Because cardiac surgery is not available in their country on a routine basis, patients either die of the disease, or – if they have the funding – fly to India or South Africa for heart valve surgery .
Enter Team Heart. We are a surgical volunteer organization that sends dozens of US-based doctors and nurses on missions to Rwanda to perform live-saving heart surgery for children. Team Heart currently performs 1 out of every 4 heart surgeries in Rwanda. This is all thanks to Chip and Ceeya Bolman from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, who founded Team Heart in 2007.
TeamHeart is now about to embark on its eighth mission to Rwanda. I was fortunate enough to be invited in 2013 (Read all about my experience in this blog article). That year, we operated on 16 patients between the ages of 12 and 25.
Last year, six members of the University of Vermont Medical Center team joined me. It was so gratifying to work alongside Joe Platz, MD, a surgical resident, Missy Montani, RN, a surgical nurse, and John Kinne, a perfusionist. They participated in one of our first heart valve replacement operations. We were also joined by Mark Sgantas, RN, Lili Bischof, RN, and Nicholas Martin, RN, who managed the post-operative care of patients. I was so proud to see our University of Vermont Medical Center volunteers providing life-saving surgery.
This year, John Kinne, Missy Montani, RN, and I will return. We will be joined by Mark Tischler, MD, from cardiology, Jean Roberts from our technical services program, Molly Wallner, RN, Cynthia McCormack, RN, and Lydia Corriveau, RN. Our mission starts at the end of February. You can help us – not by traveling to Rwanda, but by donating to our cause, from the comfort of your home or office.
This Valentine’s Day, we are running a campaign to #FixABrokenHeart, and provide children in Rwanda with lifesaving heart surgery. Help us raise $50,000 by February 14 to perform preventive screening and lifesaving heart surgery for children in Rwanda. Click here to learn more and to donate. Please consider sharing this message with five people in your life and on Facebook or Twitter. You can connect with the campaign through TeamHeartRwanda on Facebook or through @TeamHeartRwanda and #FixABrokenHeart on Twitter.
Thank you for helping us fix broken hearts and save lives.
Bruce J. Leavitt, MD, FACS, is a cardiothoracic surgeon at the University of Vermont Medical Center, where he has served for 25 years. Throughout his tenure at the UVM Medical Center, he has participated in surgical missions in China, Panama, and Russia before becoming a member of Doctors Without Borders (Medicins Sans Frontieres), with whom he traveled to Sri Lanka in 2009 and Nigeria in 2010.