Africa Outreach: Wrapping Up in Uganda

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

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This guest post is from Children’s National Melissa Jones, a nurse practitioner specializing in Cardiac Surgery. She is one of many members of our Cardiology team who are in Uganda. 

What an amazing week with an incredible team! We completed eight surgeries, 13 cardiac catheterizations, screened roughly 200 children for heart disease, and evaluated more than 100 by our general pediatrician and our genetics team.

The children who had surgery and catheterizations have all recovered well. Those who were screened and diagnosed will be monitored by the Ugandan cardiology team at Mulago Hospital‘s Uganda Heart Institute (UHI). Some will be operated on independently by the team at Mulago, while others will be evaluated for surgeries abroad, and a few may be added to a list of children who can wait for the next mission trip. Sadly, a number of children screened by our team had such complex diseases that they were deemed inoperable.

The eight children who did have surgery were remarkably resilient. Just one day after open heart surgery, they were all out of bed, walking the hallway, and eating with their families. Prior to leaving for Uganda, our own families and colleagues at Children’s National Health System donated toys and t-shirts for the Ugandan patients, their families, and the UHI staff. Mulago Hospital provides minimal linens (only bed sheets), so the Children’s National t-shirts served as hospital gowns!

The Ugandan families we worked with revealed their resilience several times during our stay. Throughout the week, we experienced several days of rain, but Friday was sunny, which meant that families could wash their blankets and clothes in buckets—then lay them out to dry on the hospital grounds, forming what appeared to be colorful panes of a beautiful quilt. It has been a real privilege to work with these children and their families.

We live 7,000 miles away from each other. We have comforts that they could not even imagine. We eat different food and wear different kinds of clothes. But, talking with the parents of the children here, we quickly realize that the core of what we all strive for is exactly the same – we want our children to be healthy and happy – and we would sacrifice anything to ensure that.

In Uganda, access to even basic health care, never mind a specialist to diagnose and treat congenital heart disease, is limited. So families here are forced to sacrifice more than many of us could imagine just to see that their children are evaluated and diagnosed.

Though the UHI pediatric cardiology and cardiac surgery programs at Mulago Hospital have grown quite a bit over the past several years, they are not able to treat most of the children born with congenital heart disease. The children we operated on this week were repaired late, according to our standards at home. They’ve lived with limited activity and growth delays. The overarching goal of our missions is the development of a sustainable, independent program that would provide timely treatment to all children with congenital heart disease in Uganda. In the meantime, it was a privilege to contribute in some small way to help keep the hope of a healthy childhood alive for these few children and their families.

Our team was led by the tireless efforts of cardiologist Craig Sable, MD. The rest of the Children’s team included: Ozzie Rivera, biomedical engineer; Kanishka Ratnayaka, MD, interventional cardiologist; Pranava Sinha, MD, cardiac surgeon; Chona Lopez, RN, OR nurse; Charles Fleming, RN, cardiac catheterization lab nurse; Dan Sage, cardiac catheterization lab tech; Lynda Dattilio, RN, ICU and cardiac catheterization lab nurse; Melissa Jones, CPNP, ICU nurse; Betsy Focht, RN, ICU nurse; Cabrina Caccioppo, RN, ICU nurse; Jen Schuette, MD, cardiac intensivist; Rupal Bhakta, MD, ICU fellow, Alan Riley, MD, cardiology fellow; Andrea Beaton, MD, cardiologist; Lasya Gaur, MD, cardiology fellow; Bhawna Arya, MD, cardiology fellow; Sarah Schooler, MD, primary care pediatrician; Brendan Lanpher, MD, geneticist; and Laura Harris, genetics counselor. Our colleagues from UVA including: Jeannean Carver, MD, intensivist; Jennifer Glass, CPNP, ICU nurse; Stacy Williams, RN, ICU Nurse; and Joel Vanderford, MD, ICU Fellow; from Great Ormand Street: Sally Wilmhurst, MD, anesthesiologist and Ellen Rawlinson, MD, anesthesiologist; and from UNC: Bill Nicotra, perfustionist.

Thank you to our families, friends, and colleagues who donated t-shirts and toys—they were all very much appreciated!

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