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After more than 50 years in action, Carolinas HealthCare System’s International Medical Outreach Program continues its work abroad. Over the next week, the Program will be in Belize to support and celebrate the birth of a cardiology program. Follow Carolinas HealthCare System's Deborah Neffa Creech as she writes about the experience.
The first part of the group has arrived to Belize City, and we could not be more excited. We returned to find the place we remember – one of warm climate and of warm people.
After checking into the hotel and unloading our bags full of medical supplies, we made our way to our next, much-awaited destination – the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital (KHMH). It was thrilling to again navigate the halls of the cozy, 134-bed hospital, where everyone knows each other and greets you with a smile.
Our first stop at the hospital: the newly-installed echocardiography (echo) laboratory.
The official public opening of the echo lab is Monday, but teams are already at work, testing the machines and helping schedule patients. Adrienne White, Scott Whaley, and Dr. Rich Brown , from Carolinas HealthCare System, join the Belizean teams to get things ready.
An echo machine is one of the most basic tools to diagnose heart disease. It produces ultrasounds of a patient’s heart and can also record real-time images. It stores them virtually for easy sharing (with the patient’s consent, of course) among cardiologists and other clinicians -- within within the same facility or even across countries.
In Central America, echo labs are few and far between. The International Medical Outreach (IMO) Program is helping fill this gap through its “Echo Network Expansion” project that is equipping rural hospitals across Central America with echo labs.
In Belize, this is one of the first echo labs installed in a public hospital. Until now, patients with possible heart conditions have waited months to be seen at the KHMH for a diagnostic heart test. The new echo lab will cut down the waiting time for patients from months to weeks.
Today, we also got a glimpse of the mobile cardiac catheterization (cath) laboratory at the KHMH.
The cath lab was the first piece of cardiac equipment donated to the KHMH by the IMO Program . Since it opened to patients in October 2011, it has welcomed dozens of visiting clinicians, as well as more than 120 Belizean patients.
A cath lab is a complex lab used by cardiology teams to both diagnose and, if necessary, treat patients with heart disease. The non-invasive heart surgeries in cath labs usually last between 30 minutes to 1.5 hours and have a quick recovery time.
Over the next few days, we will get the chance to see KHMH and Carolinas HealthCare System cardiology and surgical teams work together to perform a range of cardiac services on Belizean patients.
Deborah is a member of the communications team for International Medical Outreach, part of Carolinas HealthCare System.