St. Damien Pediatric Hospital performed its first open heart surgeries March 15-20th. Twelve children from all over Haiti who have been living with different heart defects were brought to St. Damien Hospital for surgery. These individual cases where chosen based on the child’s conditions and the likelihood that the surgery would be successful and improve the child’s quality of life. St. Damien Hospital, known as one of the premier pediatric hospitals in the country, provides care for thousands of children as well as operates a maternity ward which deals with high risk pregnancies each year. The addition of heart surgeries to the care offered at St. Damien Hospital is part of our goal of partnering with other organizations and utilizing their skills to teach our physicians and in line with our mission of offering a high level of care to our patients.
For many years, St. Damien Hospital has admitted and cared for patients with different degrees of heart defects. These children desperately required simple surgeries, in most cases a basic procedure done within the first few years of life would completely solve their problem. However, such options were not available to these kids. In 2010, Akron Children’s Hospital in Ohio, which has a partnership with St. Damien, began focusing on this problem. A screening program was developed and a list of patients needing operations was created. In 2012, St. Damien sent four children to Akron’s for heart surgery. This success led to four more cases in both 2013 and 2014, with all children receiving the highest level of care in the Unites States. Although this is an amazing gift, the cost of traveling to a foreign country to receive an operation and the thus low number of cases possible, was not sustainable.
Performing the surgeries in Haiti means that more cases can be seen, and the costs are significantly lower. Pairing those two positives with the ability of traveling teams to teach our Haitian physicians how to perform such operations, makes the perfect trifecta for a sustainable solution. There will be rotating teams coming from the US twice a year to perform surgeries, teach and mentor our Haitian physicians, monitor past cases, and perform maintenance on the operating equipment.
This recent surgeries were a huge success for St. Damien and for healthcare in Haiti. One such case was a young girl named Estherline*. Estherline is a one year-old infant from Leogane and was the first child to receive heart surgery at St. Damien Pediatric Hospital. She had a small hole in her heart, a common enough surgery performed regularly in the US with patients going on to experience completely normal lives. Estherline’s mother told us the story of how she knew her child was sick. “She did not act like my first two children had and so I went from hospital to hospital looking for an answer”. One day she heard a missionary from the US had come to run a small clinic near her neighborhood. She went and was told her child was having heart issues and was referred to St. Damien hospital for care. Timing is everything, and Estherline happened upon us while cases were being prepped for the surgical team. Her case file went through the regular rounds of examination and the team was optimistic that they could cure her. Her surgery was a success, and a landmark for St. Damien Hospital and its partners as it marked the first open heart surgery performed in the Hospital. Estherline was discharged from the hospital and we are confident and hopeful that follow up visits will reflect that her continued advancement.
We want to thanks all the donors who contributed and continue to support this program: Dr. Jeff and Ellen Kempf of Akron Children’s Hospital, Mr. Rob Raymann from GOL, Dr. Brigitte Hudicourt from Rotary Club, Dr. Hugue Lucron a representative of GOL, Dr. Francois LacourGayet, and the wonderful doctors, nurses, and staff from all around the world (including the United States, France, and Italy). It is with the help of all these individuals and their organizations that we were able to provide these successful surgeries to the children of Haiti. It takes a hundred kind hearts to fix a heart. Thank you!