One patient leads to another
Over 24 years ago there was a 12-year-old Nigerian girl who was in desperate need of surgery to correct her congenital heart defect in order to save her life. Unfortunately, she had lived with her defect for too long and her condition was too far gone. Dr. William Novick, as a resident in cardiac surgery at the University of Alabama, learned that if she had received treatment sooner, she could have had the corrective surgery she needed to save her life. Dr. Novick’s mentor, Dr. Albert Pacifico, performed her operation, only to extend her life by a few years.
Dr. Novick, plagued with nightmares of this lost life, was determined to save other children. In the midst of Croatia’s war to break away from Yugoslavia, Dr. Novick accepted an invitation to go to Zagreb to operate on children suffering from congenital heart disease. Here initiated his program of performing pediatric cardiac surgery, providing the skills and training necessary for that country’s doctors to go on and save their own children. This first trip, and the program of saving lives paired with education, led to the creation of the International Children’s Heart Foundation. On that first mission trip to Croatia, Bill operated on 14 children, the first of whom was a 10-year-old boy named Zoran, who had tricuspid valve atresia. The tragedy of the Nigerian girl led to the triumph of this boy receiving his surgery in 1993. Then 6,999 children later, led to a hospital in Tegucigalpa, Honduras in 2014 where a boy named Gabriel was waiting for his surgery.
Gabriel is a 2-year-old boy from Tegucigalpa who, at 4-months-old, was diagnosed with double outlet right ventricle defect and ventricular septal defect. An only child, his mother, Gabriella, is raising him by herself. She works at a local motorcycle shop and their home is 15 minutes away from the hospital. Gabriel loves to play soccer, rather than stay indoors and watch TV. Due to his heart condition, Gabriel was forced to stop activities such as soccer. When Gabriel was 11-months-old, the doctors informed his mother that the treatments he was on were not working. As the surgery Gabriel’s heart required was not available in Honduras, the International Children’s Heart Foundation was his only shot. Gabriel was scheduled to receive treatment during our Babyheart mission in October of 2013, but he arrived sick and therefore, inoperable. His mother continued to hold onto hope and never give up. Babyheart wouldn’t give up either. On our 20th medical mission trip to Honduras, Gabriel received his operation.
On March 5, 2014 at 12:43 local time Gabriel became the 7000th child to receive a life-saving operation at the hands of a Babyheart surgeon. In this case, Dr. Max Sharma, Babyheart volunteer surgeon, operated on Gabriel. Dr. Kathleen Fenton, who has been with ICHF since 2006 heading up the program in Nicaragua, scrubbed in to assist. The nurses in the ICU said Gabriel was very playful, but shy and didn’t like getting his picture taken. They would have to sneak up on him and snap a few quick pictures before he noticed. Just like our other Babyheart patients, he was unique with his own special lively personality that only grew more as he recovered at the expert hands of Babyheart volunteers in the pediatric intensive care unit.
His mother was very grateful and said words cannot express what her heart feels now that her son’s heart is healed. One day, she hopes he will grow up to be an architect and live a healthy life. Gabriel recuperated well, as thousands of children before him did and walked out of the ICU two days later. Now, Gabriel has returned home to continue to recover, grow, and play soccer!
Six more children received operations the day of Gabriel’s operation, bring ICHF’s total operations to #7006. There was actually a running competition as to who would get patient #7000. Because ICHF rarely operates only in one place at one time there were two other missions occurring at the same time as Honduras. There were two programs operating on the other side of the world in Benghazi, Libya and Nasiriyah, Iraq. Both medical teams were communicating with Dr. Novick and ICU Coordinator & Clinical Researcher, Frank Molloy, as to who would obtain the lucky goal of being the medical mission trip that achieved the 7000th pediatric heart surgery.
Special recognition must be paid to ICHF’s collaborating charity in Tegucigalpa, Helping Hands for Honduras, led by Chairman and CEO Ron Roll. Helping Hands for Honduras have been an invaluable part of the Babyheart mission offering in-country logistical support and helping arrangements for patients to come to the hospital for treatment.
There’s a saying: “a great journey begins with a single step”. Dr. William Novick’s and ICHF’s journey started with a single heart, and that first healed heart in Croatia has led to 7000 hearts. 7000 children, 7000 hearts, millions of miles flown by medical volunteers, 33 countries. 368 mission trips. And there are no signs of slowing down as the medical missions continue. According to CHD global statistics there are still 6 million children waiting for heart surgery worldwide. Babyheart is striving to reach them all. ICHF will hopefully soon be celebrating 10,000 healed hearts!
Congratulations to our Babyheart team of volunteers for this accomplishment!
Babyheart team members who served on this mission:
Dr. Max Sharma, Pediatric Cardiac Surgeon
Dr. Kathleen Fenton, Pediatric Cardiac Surgeon, ICHF
Nitasha Joyner, Perfusionist
James O’Leary, MD, Anesthesiologist
Nelson Varas, MD, Anesthesiologist
Mark Gelatt, MD, Cardiologist
Joel Lutterman, MD, Interventional Cardiologist
Enrique Carrion, MD, Intensivist
Barbara Ferdman, MD, Intensivist
Nita Mohanty, MD Intensivist
Stacey Marr, PICU Nurse Practitioner & Educator, ICHF
Lindsay Bailer, Respiratory Therapist
Roy Morris, Biomedical Engineer, ICHF
Andrea Yuel, ICU Nurse & Educator
Maggie Wong, PICU Nurse
Laura McKenzie, ICU Nurse
Colette Brodt, ICU Nurse
Justine Mize, ICU Nurse
Sarah Harrison, ICU Nurse