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2013 was a very exciting year for Healing Hearts Northwest. In October, we completed our 4th surgical trip. Healing Hearts Northwest performed 16 open-heart surgeries primarily on young adults, with patients coming from many different cities and villages in Rwanda.
Patients and families have become far more educated about the surgical program and had a better understanding of their procedures before arriving. This is partly due to word of mouth between patients as well as better communication of the Rwandan physicians, nurses, and the patients to be able to discuss the program utilizing face-to-face meetings as well as social media.
The Healing Hearts Northwest team was smaller this year (35 medical personnel compared to 54 in 2010) in response to the involvement of the Rwandan staff assuming greater roles in patient care. It is now considered a privilege to work with our team, rather than Rwanda staff fearing that they were not qualified to take care of our complicated patients. King Faisal Hospital administration now supports our efforts and allowed four ICU nurses and four telemetry nurses to work with us full time during our two-week visit. It was rewarding to our staff to recognize the progress that the Rwandan nurses have made during the four years, working with four visiting surgical teams.
Healing hearts Northwest was awarded the D. Robert McCaffree, MD, Master FCCP Humanitarian Award through the CHEST Foundation in April 2103. This grant provided money to support the anticoagulation program needed to care for patients in Rwanda that have received mechanical heart valves. These valves last longer than biological valves; however, patients must remain on coumadin, a blood thinner, to prevent blood clots. Critical monitoring of blood thinning is required for all patients with mechanical valves.
One enormous step in independence for the Rwandan Cardiac Program was the hiring of a Nurse Coordinator recruited by the Rwandan Minister of Health. Healing Hearts Northwest and Team Heart from Boston have financially support this position. Alex Katabarwa, RN is the first Rwandan cardiac outpatient nurse and worked with Healing Heart Northwest in October. He has followed our patients since their discharged and is responsible to coordinate follow-up care, helping patients to get their medication and responding to medical problems. He has begun contacting all cardiac surgical patients from past trips of all the surgical teams amounting to roughly 500 patients since the first operating team, Open heart International, began in 2006. Alex has established a chat line for patients utilizing “what’sup” for patients to support each other and has designated a patient representative in many small villages to check on fellow cardiac patients, calling Alex when someone needs help or has a question. Alex has continued to establish a database of all the patients helping to justify Rwanda’s need for establishing an independent Rwandan program.
In June of 2013, Healing Hearts Northwest through Dr. Hal Goldberg, Medical Director, participated in the 9th Global Forum on Humanitarian Medicine in Cardiology; Conference in Geneva, Switzerland. The four visiting surgical teams were represented along with four Rwandan Cardiologists, who are working towards greater collaboration of an encompassing Rwanda Heart Program. A half-day session of the conference was dedicated to presenting the cooperative work being done by the cardiac teams in Rwanda. Speakers included Dr. Chip Bolman – Team Heart (Boston), Russell Lee – Open Heart International (Australia), Dr. Thierry Sluysman – Chain of Hope (Belgium), and Dr. Hal Goldberg – Healing Hearts Northwest (Spokane, Washington), Dr. Joseph Mucumbitsi, Rwanda, Dr. Emmanuel Rkamanzi, Rwanda and JaBaris D. Swain MD MPH, Boston. The session was very well received and highlighted the unique aspects of this program demonstrating international cooperation and the advantages of multiple visits each year, to allow for ongoing training of the Rwandan staff, better follow up with patients, and the sharing of ideas to improve the development of the program.
In 2013, Providence Medical Center donated a refurbished heart and lung machine for the Rwandan Heart Program and Providence International donated the cost of shipping the machine to Kigali, Rwanda. This machine was shipped with equipment for the trip in October of 2013 and Healing Hearts Northwest is training the Rwanda professionals to use the equipment.