by ICHF medical volunteer Scrub Nurse, Becca Davenport
Two months ago Juan Carlito became the proud father to a beautiful little girl named Valeria. Only hours after receiving news of the birth of his first-born, Carlito also learned devastating news that the baby was born with a heart defect. He and his wife, first-time parents, were destroyed with the news that their child would most likely not develop into the healthy little girl that they had dreamed of. Chances were high the baby would die in infancy from her congenital heart defect. The remote village, in which the family lives, does not offer any medical support for children, like Valeria, born with heart defects. The family was left to their prayers, in hopes that their baby would be ok.
Later on this same week, the parents returned to the hospital for additional check-ups with the hospital’s top doctors. It was on this visit that the family found out that a team of American heart specialists would soon be in Guayaquil, (a city not far from their village), to operate on children with congenital heart defects. The new parents could not believe their ears! The American doctors must be able to help them, and they needed to make their way to the big city as soon as they could. The family packed up and was fast on their way to the Hospital del Nino, in Guayaquil, Ecuador.
The American team of cardiac specialists arrived in Guayaquil, quickly set up their supplies and base camp at the Hospital del Ninos, in preparation of seeing their patients. The medical team is a collaboration of volunteers that are actually from all over the world (not just America), and brought on this medical mission by the International Children’s Heart Foundation (ICHF). The ICHF’s mission is to provide cardiac surgical services to children with congenital heart defects, in countries where these surgical interventions largely do not exist. The program provides these services, in addition to training local medical professionals. The hope of the ICHF is that this training will allow for the local hospital to sustain these specialized cardiac services themselves.
Upon the arrival of the ICHF medical team, baby Valeria was able to receive a screening of her heart, and her diagnosis was identified as TGA, (transposition of the greater arteries). The anatomy of baby Valeria’s heart vessels, is backwards. This is a condition in which the aorta is in place of the pulmonary artery, and the pulmonary artery is in the location that the aorta should be. This anatomical defect causes the heart’s vessels to pump oxygen-rich blood from the lungs back into the heart, but the oxygen-rich blood stays mostly trapped within the heart. What this means is that the body is not receiving the oxygen-rich blood that is required for normal function and developmental growth.
With baby Valeria’s heart defect being identified as TGA, surgery was immediately scheduled for the placement of a B-T shunt. A B-T shunt is a preliminary procedure that directs blood flow from the aorta to the lungs and relieves cyanosis, until the baby can receive palliative surgery. This allows a higher percentage of oxygen-rich blood to reach systemic circulation. This procedure is just a preliminary and temporary fix to the heart defect, but it treats the patient’s hypoxia in order to then later treat the anatomical defect (the transposed vessels).
Valeria’s surgery was a success! The baby recovered wonderfully after only a few days in the ICU, and is now receiving a more adequate supply of oxygenated blood to her body. The young parents to Valeria slept in the hallways of the hospital (as many of the parents do), and were at her bedside daily. It was a pleasure for the whole team to see the looks of worry on these parents’ faces, soon be replaced with smiles, assured that their baby was on the path to recovery.
Baby Valeria is one of the 21 patients that received surgery from the ICHF team during the September trip to Guayaquil, Ecuador. The baby will need additional surgery on one of the future return trips that the ICHF volunteers will make, but for now she is stable. Many more children in Ecuador need these surgical interventions, but because of limited resources and time only a small percentage of kids are able to receive them. It is in the hopes of ICHF that one day in the future Hospital del Ninos will be able to sustain this need for cardiac surgery, and the team of volunteers will then venture on to new territories to start the entire process over again.