Carolinas HealthCare System
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Making Heart History Day 3: Changing Lives One Patient at a Time

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.

This weekend, we welcomed the second part of the group to Belize – a mix of care providers and administrators here to support the cardiac program at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital (KHMH).

So far during this trip, the air has been filled with excitement and reflection, as team members from Charlotte and Belize City continue working together.

Here to support patients in the mobile cath lab are Dr. John Cedarholm and Paul Jellum, part of the first team at Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute, part of Carolinas HealthCare System, to diagnose patients and perform the first heart stents in Belize in October 2013.

In the operating room, we welcome back Dr. R. Mark Stiegel, Ceary Padron and Mica Massey, part of the team that performed the first open-heart surgeries in Belize in July 2012.

Over the course of the weekend, I was fortunate to chat with KHMH staffers (above) and Belizean patients who have benefited from the support of the IMO Program over the past three years. Hearing these stories is one of the most rewarding parts of these trips and of the IMO Program’s efforts.

Meet a few of the staffers: Lily (a cath tech), Mike (an echosonographer) and Tanya (an ICU nurse). They are KHMH clinicians who traveled to Charlotte as part of their training and also received training in Belize by Carolinas HealthCare System providers.

Today, they are much closer to providing a new kind of care to Belizean patients, without support from Sanger teams.

“The doctors [from Charlotte], they are very patient with us,” said Lily. “They are used to working very quickly in Charlotte, but here they have to take their time with us. It’s really hard to find people who are willing to train you for free, so we appreciate all they have done for us, to help us treat our own patients.”

Chaning Lives

Since July 2012, some of these patients at the KHMH have included:

Emir (below, with sister), 74 years old: Two years ago, he helped make history in Belize as the first open-heart surgery patient in the country. Today, he feels as healthy as a young man and is even able to run, when before he could not walk more than two blocks without feeling chest pain. “I lived with pain for eight years. The doctors told me there was nothing they could do in Belize. When I heard about Dr. Coye and the doctors from Charlotte, I called immediately. I may not be alive today if it wasn’t for the operation.”

Manuel (below, with Dr. Robicsek), 69 years old: Manuel is another open-heart surgery patient who today “feels like a teenager,” compared to 14 months ago, when he could not walk more than a few steps. His doctors discovered he had a heart problem during a checkup for another operation. A religious man, he uses prayer to thank everyone who helped make his surgery possible. “I don’t have a lot to give, so what I can give is prayer. I pray for each of you for what you have done for me. For giving me a second chance.

Carlos (below), 71 years old: He’s one of the first patients treated with stents in the mobile cath lab. With chest pain that intensified over the years, he came to the KHMH after learning about the cardiac program and was scheduled immediately for a cardiac intervention. “Today, I can ride my bike around the village and not stop. Before, I had to stop three times between my home and the grocery [store] because of the pain. Now, life is normal.”

These stories – with many more to share – are wonderful reminders of the need, on a global scale, for sharing of talents and knowledge with those in medically underserved communities.

Deborah is a member of the communications team for International Medical Outreach, part of Carolinas HealthCare System.