Thank you Keif and Cori for bringing this wonderful story to the international community. Many of you know, since 2008 Team Heart, Inc., (501 c 3 27-1435443) is one of four teams, (In order of appearance, Operation Open Heart Australia, Team Heart, Chain of Hope, Belgium and Healing Hearts of Northwest, Spokane WA) operating on children and young adults with rheumatic heart disease IN Rwanda. Our Team just completed their sixth trip providing surgical intervention on 16 individuals who had no other chance of survival. Patients are doing well but the work earnestly continues to coordinate post-operative care in a resource poor setting.
Team Heart alone has provided care to nearly 100 individuals bewteen ages 14-44 years and at this time, currently supplies Coumadin for all those who receive mechanical valves—including the children operated in Sudan or India. Although there are four Rwanda cardiologists for a country of ten million people to provide the follow-up care for our patients, one of the biggest challenges has been a consistent supply of Coumadin not readily available in country and the increased need to see patients in follow-up and evaluate post-operatively how they are doing.
Team Heart provides not only life saving surgical care; we are actively led a screening of 3000 school-aged children to detect early disease for intervention, to prevent further progression of heart disease. In collaboration with the Rwanda Heart Foundation, an Awareness and Prevention program was developed. We initiated a c collaborative with the schools of nursing to change the curriculum to include an emphasis on heart health including rheumatic heart disease. In 2009 we identified a young surgeon and assisted in finding a training program, now he is currently nearly halfway through a five year program. In regards to education, we have developed a curriculum for internal medicine physicians to increase their knowledge base for cardiology to better provide care and diagnose of cardiac disease. We support a patient network of over 160 patients in the country who need follow up information and support to maintain good health. Returning to school and work is an important part of the effort to return to normal life.
From the beginning Team Heart’s goal was to help build a sustainable comprehensive program in cardiac surgery in Rwanda to address this significant burden of disease. Rwanda is a landlocked country that borders include over 10, million people, 80% are within the poverty range. Burundi and Congo and eastern Tanzania have no cardiac program, so the potential population of people to be served is well over 40 million.
Challenges in all programs like this are immense. In order for progress to be made in one area means a power shift from another. Competing for the same funds in the global world is difficult in a world where surgery is deemed too expensive, unless of course it might be your child who needs the surgery.
Rheumatic heart disease (RHD) is a disease of poverty and children. Neither category has a voice in decisions about care in most settings around the world. RHD is caused by, repeated bouts of untreated strep throat where inflammation destroys the heart valves or kidneys over a period of years. Eradicated in the US and most of the western world it is a disease process that is silent over time until congestive heart failure is recognized. Unfortunately, at this advanced stage, only surgery is the answer to return the patient to good health; ONLY IF follow up and medication is available and provided.
Let this movie be a CRY OUT to encourage those in health care to make the changes necessary and to put jealously aside to provide the care needed. Demand that sustainable cardiac surgery be possible to those who need it while forging forcibly ahead with an educational, prevention and early intervention. Sudan is one wonderful place where care can be provided, but it is not enough for the anticpated 15,000 individuals in Rwanda who need our help. Top surgeons and committed efforts from the US, Australia and Eurpope are helping Rwanda to develop a program now. Top leaders in Rwanda recognize the need and have pledged their help. Help us to help Rwanda achieve the program needed.