2010 Trip

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Following a fact-finding trip in 2008 with UJAMAA and a trip in April 2009 to observe the work of a team from Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dr. Hal Goldberg led Healing Hearts Northwest—comprised of physicians, nurses, and medical technicians—in mid-February on the medical mission to the capitol city of Kigali. The team, along with Rwandan doctors and nurses from Kigali’s modern medical facility of King Faisal Hospital, successfully completed 16 open-heart surgeries that included 14 valve replacements and repairs, repair of congenital heart defects and four pacemaker placements.

Supplies and equipment were either shipped ahead or carried with staff members on the 48 hour trip into Kigali. All supplies and equipment were either donated from multiple sources in the United States or purchased through donations made during the year. A total of 6,000 pounds of supplies were ultimately shipped to Rwanda. Despite the enormous logistical effort it required of the team, it was a very successful and rewarding trip for the individuals involved. The people of Rwanda were motivated, appreciative and gracious during our stay. We will be returning to Kigali in April 2011 for our second visit to continue open heart surgeries, and training of the Rwandan staff.

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“The goal of this trip was to aid some people that had no other options,” said Sally Lutz, one of the Respiratory Therapists on the trip. “As for the team members, we had two goals: To assist with the immediate issues at hand, but, and almost more importantly, to instruct and teach the staff at King Faisal Hospital so they can eventually care for their own, both in prevention of some cardiac conditions and correcting them as they develop.”

The 16 patients—ages 9 to 35—all suffered from rheumatic heart disease caused by untreated strep throat. In December 2009, Dr. Tim Bishop traveled to Rwanda with Echo Technician Don Hadly on a screening mission to narrow down the list of 16 candidates and six alternates. As Lutz noted, the guidelines for choosing the candidates were based on a few provisions—namely: the acuteness of the disease, as they had to be sick enough to require intervention soon but not so sick that they would likely have a long recovery time as the team was on a two-week time limit; and the patients needed to be able to leave the ICU in a relatively short time, as there were only four beds in the ICU and eight in the step-down unit.

Nearly every HHNW team member remarked the rapid progress of the patients from surgery to ICU to Step Down compared to the pace of American patients and hospitals. Undoubtedly, the difference in patient age contributed significantly to this rapid transition.

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Notwithstanding, a security gate prevented patients from being wheeled in their beds from ICU to the Step Down Unit. “Seeing the two youngest patients—Rebecca, 9, and Esther, 10—walk to Telemetry only one day after open heart surgery, was a highlight for the group,” disclosed Dr. Goldberg. “The kids’ ability to recover is amazing.”

Considering the massive logistical effort that these missions required, the recent February trip in addition to the several others prove to be a great achievement. Spokane and Coeur d’Alene have reached out halfway around the world—8,700 miles, to be exact—to have an impact on both the Rwandan health care system and Rwanda’s greatest resource…its people.