Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Announcing Team Heart Pumping Heart Challenge!

Team Heart Pumping Heart Challenge


Like everyone, Team Heart faces challenges and a new reality due to COVID. In light of these obstacles, we remain committed to our mission and work in Rwanda.  Our team is dedicated and works hard to bring awareness and address the burden of rheumatic heart disease. Each year with your help, we travel to provide direct care to save the lives of young teens, screen for disease and strengthen the health care system in Rwanda.


Today we are launching our first annual Team Heart Pumping Heart Challenge, a virtual event taking place September 22-29 encouraging individuals to run, walk, cycle, swim, hike - do what it takes to pump your heart while raising funds to support Team Heart. In the weeks leading up to the event, we will illustrate the benefits that exercise brings to heart health, spotlight Team Heart Heroes and showcase how dollars raised directly impact our organization.  The Challenge culminates with World Heart Day at the end of September.


Rheumatic heart disease (RHD), is a condition that develops when strep throat is left untreated. Across the globe, RHD takes the lives of 233,000 people every year. That is 638 preventable deaths per day.  In a country of 12.3 million, it’s estimated that 30,000 Rwandans have rheumatic heart disease.  Each year, nearly three dozen Team Heart volunteers - including cardiac surgeons, anesthesiologists, pharmacists, nurses and perfusionists - travel to Rwanda to perform screenings, heart operations and workshops with local Rwandan medical staff.


We invite you to join our team today to help us with our goal to raise $30,000 and help fight rheumatic heart disease and bring sustainable cardiac care to Rwanda. Register for the Pumping Heart Challenge at Teamheart.org and start fundraising now.  


Registered participants receive a T-shirt, activity on our Team fundraising page and have the chance to win special Pumping Heart Challenge prizes including an Adrien Niyonshuti Cycling Academy Jersey from the Rwandan Cycling team, an organic spa gift set, from Silver Moon Shoppe, American Express gift card, as well as a custom bakery package from Boston-based The Cake Patch Bakery, who ships across the US.


Every dollar raised is used towards patient care, accessible cardiac care, education and awareness, and advocacy and poverty reduction initiatives.  For example:

  • $160 will fund an emergency package including rent, medication and food for 3 months for one patient;

  • $250 will publish 100 coloring books for prevention and education;

  • $350 will pay for the follow-up, medication, and testing for one patient for one year;

  • $500 will fund the "Support for Congenital Heart and Patient Network" for one year


Get ready to pump your heart the week of September 22 – 29 in honor of World Heart Day and to save lives in Rwanda. Register today!


We are one TEAM!

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Celebrating A Birthday From Across the World!

Mary Louise Parker, Team Heart Ambassador for Prevention of Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD)  celebrates her birthday today in New York City with good wishes from the team and some very special people from Rwanda. Across the miles, TH patients sang Happy Birthday in thanks for the awareness to increase knowledge of the risk of RHD and the importance of heart health.  Photographed here with 2019 patient,  Louise as they celebrated in February 2020, one year anniversary following  Louise's life-saving cardiac surgery. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Collaboration :)

Team Heart is as much about saving lives as it is teaching our Rwandan counterparts how to care for a post op heart surgery patient. In our 10 years of surgical missions we have been fortunate enough to collaborate and work with some of the best Rwandan nurses and physicians. Looking forward to many more year of teamwork and seeing our goal of establishing the first cardiac care center in Rwanda! Team Heart is made up of medical and nursing volunteers from 12 U.S. states and 5 countries, representing over 15 different hospitals.

Our Team Heart Pharmacy

Visits from Former Team Heart Patients

One of the best things about returning to Kigali, Rwanda year after year, is to see our former patients. After they have had surgery, it is remarkable how strong and healthy these young adults become. They are not only physically bigger and healthier, but they have been able to return to school and to work for the first time in years!
Here are some pictures of our some of former patients....ranging from 1 to 6 years post op!

16 Surgeries Completed!

Greetings Friends! 

Long time no update. Apologies for the hiatus. Things have been moving along here in Kigali, with the 15th and 16th surgeries being performed today. We are halfway through the day and the 15th case just came out of the OR. 

This patient is different from all our other patients because he was an atrial septal defect repair - meaning there was a hole in his heart between the left and right atrium - where the blood goes first before it is pumped into the ventricles. The atrium collects the blood and pass it to the ventricles, the ventricles are the chambers that pump the blood out to the lungs and the rest of the body. 

Atrial septal defects or ASD's are usually congenital and are the third most common type of congenital heart defects. When there is a defect in the atrial septum several problems can occur. When the defect is large, the problems can be life threatening. 

Our patient had a very large ASD and the concern is that normally blood does not cross between the atrium - so that it must pass through the lungs before entering the left side of the heart and being delivered to the body. In a patient with an ASD - some blood from the left atrium passes through the hole back into the right atrium and as a result there is more blood in the right side of the heart than there should be. Over time, the right side of the heart and the arteries in the lungs have to work harder to accommodate this extra blood. The muscles that make up the walls of arteries in the lungs bulk up from all this working out and because they are stronger, there is more resistance to the blood flow causing what is called pulmonary hypertension. Because of this increased resistance, the blood chooses the path of least resistance and starts flowing directly through the hole in the atrial septum and into the left side of the heart without going through the lungs first. This means blood that has not been oxygenated by the lungs is now circulating through the entire body. This causes the obvious challenge of not having enough oxygen. 

There are a few other problems caused by an ASD and that is why we needed to fix this one today. Dr. Bolman and Dr. Swain (up and coming fellow at UPENN in cardiothoracic surgery) repaired our patient's ASD today. They used bovine (yep, from a cow) pericardium in the shape of an elliptical about 4x5cm. 

This case was special not just because it was the only ASD repaired or because it was the last day of surgery, but also because Dr. Bolman and his daughter got to scrub in together and her husband got to wear scrubs and watch with me from the anesthesia pod. Pictures of all involved are below as well as some pictures of the bovine pericardium and the incision made in the atrium. We tried to capture the ASD, but didn't get it on camera - it was pretty amazing though, just so you know! 

Well, that is all folks. I will try to do at least one more update tomorrow. I am working night shift tonight so I am sure I will have at least one good story to report. 

Until then… Urabaho!

~Bridget C. and all of us here with Team Heart

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Updates from the Step-down Ward

Good evening! 

It's been a beautiful day in Kigali. Our patients were perking up like flowers in the sunlight after yesterday's rainy weather. Three of our six post-op patients have transitioned from the Intensive Care Unit to the Step Down unit with pacing wires and chest tubes being taken out. They are returning not just back to baseline, but doing even better than they were before surgery now that they have their new valves.

So what does all this mean? Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and Step Down? Well, that is one of the things as a medical student and up and coming resident I am learning. Determining how far along a patient is in their recovery and if they are ready for less invasive monitoring is one of the most important aspects of post-operative care. I have had the opportunity to discuss care in the ICU with the intensivists as well as surgical residents and learn about ventilator settings, the type of medications, and monitoring patients are on while in the ICU. And today I had the opportunity to talk to Sue Ellen, the nurse in charge of the Step Down unit to discuss the difference between ICU and Step Down and the different goals for transition out of each.  

The goal of the ICU is  immediate recovery after surgery. This includes recovery from the effects of anesthesia, intensive monitoring for life threatening complications of surgery such as bleeding or stroke, and removal of lines and wires that are placed on them for surgery. Once we have monitored their vital signs, blood pressure, breathing, heart rhythm on an EKG, and made sure there is no bleeding in their chest, monitored by output from a tube that is placed in their chest at the end of surgery, and the patient appears to be doing well, they are transferred to the Step Down Unit.

The goals of the step down unit are to optimize the patient's condition and prepare them to go home. A challenge unique to the work we do in Rwanda is that they do not have the accessibility of visiting nurses and medical care that we have in the United States. Therefore, before patients leave we must make sure they have the education and resources to get the medications and follow-up care that is needed after surgery.

While the patient is in the step down unit, we make sure they are getting up and moving around, doing deep breathing to prevent complications in their lungs, their pain is well-controlled, and that any fluid built up around their heart as a result of their damaged valves is starting to come off. We can tell the fluid is decreasing with chest x-rays, listening to their lungs, and tracking their body weight.

Once the patients start to feel better the goal is to educate them on what they need to know for post-surgical care, about the Warfarin medication they will be on, and making sure they are connected to a local physician who will be able to monitor and manage them. To educate the patients we have local nurses who translate and work with the patients and we have videos in Kinyarwanda - the language of Rwanda.

When a patient does not do well after surgery it is not usually a direct effect of the surgery, it is a result of lack of follow-up care. We must make sure they will have access to the medications we discharge them home on, that they are available in the country and that they are inexpensive enough the patients can afford them.

Educating the patients is essential for them to be able to advocate for themselves once our team has left. For the same reason, it is important to educate the patients' families as well as the local nursing staff - together they can all advocate for the patient to ensure strong follow-up care.  

Our first patient Emmanuel is doing extremely well. Today, one of our nurses in training, Sam, began speaking with Emmanuel about possible barriers to his follow-up care so we can figure out ways around potential obstacles that may arise in terms of patient education, finances, transportation, etc. Sam and Emmanuel are pictured below having this discussion. Emmanuel gave a big smile when Sam asked him  if he would mind me taking his picture for the blog post today. I am so happy to see him smiling and feeling well again. 

I will post more as the week goes on and we see our patients in the step down unit walking around, talking, watching videos, sitting outside and starting to feel even better than they did before their surgery. 

Have a great day everyone! Until the next post…

~Bridget C.

Patient Emmanuel receiving post op teaching

Dr. Bruce Leavitt with one of our patients and his father

Volunteer Judy Sgantas with one of our patients and her family

Wednesday, March 1, 2017


Is there anything better after a busy night shift than seeing the sunrise.....YES...Actually being able to be outside for that sunrise!!!! King Faisal Hospital, the hospital we work at in Kigali is designed so that all of the hallways are outside. It is amazing to be able to get a little fresh air during your shift....but can get interesting (and slippery) during those afternoon thunderstorms.
Here are some pictures of the hospital, our (now very busy and full) ICU, as well as that sunrise view from the hallway in between the ICU and Step-down ward.
Sunrise, Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

Sunrise, Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

King Faisal Hospital

Amazing collaboration