This is a blog that I’ll really enjoy writing. It’s one of those opportunities when I’m reminded that our world of health care is much larger than what happens in Colorado, the Rocky Mountain West and the United States. And our health care is so much better than most places around the world.
Before I continue on with their story, let me tell you a bit about Rwanda, one of the world’s poorest countries. Its per capita income is $370 compared to $39,000 in the U.S.
Rwanda has had national health insurance for 11 years. About 92 percent of the citizens are covered. Premiums are $2 a year. But, because of the nation’s impoverishment, the national health insurance program can afford to spend only about $32 a year per person, which doesn’t buy much. Certain common illnesses are the main ones tackled, such as infected cuts, malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia, and malnutrition, according to the Cato Institute.
Major medical care that we take for granted in the U.S.—dialysis and treatments for cancer, strokes and heart attacks—are generally unavailable in Rwanda.
So, with this information as the backdrop, a group of clinicians and non-clinicians from Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital—medical centers with cardiac surgery and cardiology programs consistently top-rated in the U.S.—founded Team Heart in 2007. Participants volunteer their time and pay their own expenses. Medical equipment and supplies are donated.
This year’s medical mission of 40 volunteers—cardiac surgeons, ICU RNs, anesthesiologists, and others—is the first time a team from Colorado joined in. The Colorado team: Julia and Thomas.
Julia is the nurse manager for MCR’s perioperative services—care given to patients before, during and after surgery—while Thomas is a cardiovascular surgeon who recently joined our Poudre Valley Medical Group.
He joined PVMG as part of a collaborative effort by Poudre Valley Health System and Longmont United Hospital to expand the Heart Center of the Rockies regional program. As part of this collaborative effort, Thomas and Dr. Mark B. Douthit moved from the Longmont hospital to MCR to join the regional cardiovascular surgery program already underway by Drs. Mark Guadagnoli and Michael Stanton.
Thomas sent me an email earlier this week saying that, so far, with this medical mission in Rwanda, 12 open heart cases have been performed where Team Heart is stationed in Kigali. The procedures included single valve, double valve and triple valve operations. The patients range in ages from 14 to 37, and all suffer from post-rheumatic valve disease, a degenerative disease that leads to leakage in a heart valve. Rheumatic heart disease is common in developing countries like Rwanda.
Thomas reported in the email that the patients are doing well and most have already been moved out of the ICU and into the nursing care area. He and Julia are remaining in Rwanda until all of the patients are out of the ICU, probably sometime this weekend.
I cannot begin to say how impressed I am with Thomas and Julia. Like other Team Heart members and other good-hearted people in the world, they saw a great need and they didn’t let time or distance or international boundary lines stand in their way to help others.
We should all be grateful to have such two fine souls as part of the healthcare endeavors in our region.