A 'Heart-to-Heart' Cardiac Surgery Mission to the Dominican Republic - Dr. Niloo Edwards' Blog
The following is Dr. Edwards' blog of his experience.
Jake arrives with his donated heart-lung machine equipment in a bag he bought for a dollar at the St. Vincent De Paul store. The suitcase has one wheel and most of the fabric is torn and held in place with duct tape. We are all surprised that nobody thinks it's an IED and calls security.
Joel Stevens (also known as Captain America) meets us in Chicago. Joel is an ex-Marine and the sales representative for St. Jude Medical, who are donating the artificial valves and supporting much of the trip. Even though he has no medical training he has volunteered to come with us and help with anything the mission needs. Like the rest of the team he is using his vacation time for the trip.
There are four of us from UW Hospital and Clinics: Jake Young, the perfusionist, who runs the heart-lung machine; Jody Baird, an operating room technician who was probably the inspiration for the TV show "MacGyver"; Annette Macias-Hoag, ICU nurse and B4/5 unit manager; and myself, a cardiac surgeon.
Joe Egan, the UW cardiothoracic surgery administrator, helped the rest of the team scrounge up 12 large boxes of equipment that was Fed-Exed to Miami. From there, the boxes were sent to the Dominican Republic by boat. We have visions of our generously donated medical equipment rotting in the hold of a banana boat.
Joe, Jody, Jake Joel and Annette have been tirelessly rounding up equipment for the mission. Every hospital in Madison has donated some equipment for the heart-lung machine. Annette, who is from Puerto Rico, has spent the last month going home after work and translating our pre-operative and post-operative patient instructions in to Spanish. She is still working on it in the Miami airport.
It is 7pm and dark when we land in Santiago. The air-conditioned airport is warm and damp. While waiting to go through customs the electricity goes out and everything is pitch black until the emergency generators kick in. We are grateful that we weren’t landing when that happened.
The customs officials are courteous but ask us to go back to a desk, hidden by the stairs, to pay a $10 visitor's fee. Ten dollars and they give you a ticket; you walk 10 yards further and give them back the ticket. We are still wondering about the purpose of the ticket exchange when out luggage arrives – all of it. We find out later none of the Wausau crew’s luggage arrived.
No one wants to take ownership for Jake's suitcase – now affectionately called the IED. Surprisingly the customs officials only check Captain America’s carry-ons, which contain the heart valves. The must IED look quite at home with the local suitcases.
The "Heart-to-Heart" mission is the brain child of Dr. Robert Pascotto. Dr. Bob started coming to Santiago five years ago to do free heart surgery for the indigent patients in the area. He established the heart program at the Hospital Jose Maria Cabral y Baez. This hospital serves three million indigent people in the northwest corner of the Dominican Republic. As far as I can tell it is the only heart surgery program for adults in the area other than the program at Santo Domingo – on the other side of the island of Hispanola.
- Day 2: A Hurricane's Brewing
- Day 3: Selecting Patients
- Day 4: First Operation - A Young Policeman with Severe Mitral Valve Disease
- Day 5: 'We are all more nervous about our patients than the weather'
- Day 6: Operating on the Sickest Patient
- Day 7: More Complex Surgeries - 'Necessity is the mother of invention'
- Day 8: Saying Goodbye to Our Patients
- Day 9: A Happy Homecoming
Date Published: 11/12/2007