Team Heart is a 501 c 3 organization and includes volunteers from medicine, nursing, perfusion, respiratory therapy and a wide range of non-clinical positions. Since 2007 we have partnered with the Rwanda Heart Foundation, the Ministry of Health and the citizens of Rwanda to assist Rwanda in building a program in cardiac surgery.
Many of the volunteers are employees of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard affiliated academic medical centers whose cardiac surgery and cardiology programs are consistently top rated in the United States.
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Helping Hands Healing Hearts
When Jean Damascene was a child, he most likely developed strep throat. Because he was not seen in a health care clinic by a trained provider, no throat culture was done, and he did not receive the necessary antibiotic treatment. Without antibiotics, he periodically had flare ups with inflammation affecting his valves and repeated infections. These infections progressed to rheumatic heart disease, causing permanent damage to the valves in his heart. At the age of 16, he was unable to walk to school. His heart, weakened by rheumatic heart disease, could not effectively pump blood to his body. Without surgical treatment, he faced certain death.
But Jean was lucky. He was able to get a life-saving heart operation to replace his the leaky valves. In Rwanda where Jean lives, no hospital had the ability to safely perform the procedures until a partnership developed between programs Team Heart USA, an Australian based Pediatric Surgical team and the Rwanda Heart Foundation.
In April of 2008, Jean was presented to Team Heart as a potential candidate for life saving surgery. He anxiously waited as the physicians discussed his situation. The anxiety was not of the potential discomfort or fear of the unknown, but that he might not be selected.
Today, Jean is back in school completing the highest level of high school and preparing for qualifying exams for university. He will require follow-up for the rest of his life, which is coordinated through a network of rural health clinics, Partners in Health’s chronic care clinics and Dr. Joseph Mucumbitsi at King Faisal Hospital. Jean communicates to the surgical team his laboratory test results and his hope for the future by email.
Rheumatic heart disease: a fact of life – and death – in Rwanda
Many, many other children and young adults are not so lucky. Two young girls, also with rheumatic heart disease, scheduled for life-saving heart surgery died before surgical teams arrived.
Rheumatic heart disease, a condition in which uncontrolled infections damage the heart valves and compromise the heart’s ability to pump blood, is very common in Rwanda. Although this form of heart disease is almost entirely preventable and has been virtually eliminated in developed countries like the United States, it continues to disable and kill children and young adults in Rwanda and throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
Hands to Hearts
The death toll will continue to rise unless we offer our hands to help: to make heart surgery more available to the rheumatic heart disease sufferers of Rwanda. Our program has three important components, designed to address the spectrum of rheumatic heart disease from prevention through treatment of the most severe forms of heart failure.
A Boston-based surgical team will travel each year to King Faisal Hospital, Kigali, Rwanda to perform surgical procedures and to assist in establishing an independent, sustainable cardiac surgery program allowing individuals requiring surgery to stay in the country near family and support systems.
Team Heart works with the Rwandan Heart Foundation and the Ministry of Health to identify those with chronic rheumatic heart disease and facilitate intervention to halt disease progression.
Team Heart is supporting local health centers to improve identification and treatment of sore throat and skin infections that may lead to the development of rheumatic heart disease through initiatives supported by the Ministry of Health.