Carolinas HealthCare System
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Carolinas HealthCare System’s International Medical Outreach Program Enhances Cardiac Services in Guatemala

Program helps establish services critical for diagnosing heart disease in two rural hospitals in the cities of Zacapa and Quiché

Carolinas HealthCare System’s International Medical Outreach (IMO) program continues its mission to enhance cardiac services in Central America with the opening of two echocardiography laboratories (echo labs) in regional hospitals in Zacapa and Quiché, in Guatemala. System officials were joined by the First Lady of Guatemala, Rosa María Leal de Pérez, who over the past year has worked with the IMO program to equip hospitals and clinics in Guatemala with medical services and supplies in areas in need.

The IMO program, a collaboration between Carolinas HealthCare System and the Heineman Foundation of Charlotte, donated echocardiography machines to these hospitals and helped train technicians to operate the machines and work with cardiologists to identify patients with heart ailments. Echocardiography machines are one of today’s most basic tools used to diagnose heart problems but are not readily available to patients in rural areas in Central America.

“The echo labs provide access to healthcare for thousands of patients, bring cardiac diagnosis into the modern age for millions and facilitate the delivery of life-saving cardiac services at very low or no cost,” said Francis Robicsek, MD, PhD, vice president of the IMO program, who received an award from Guatemala’s First Lady in May 2014 for his work through IMO. “We look forward to continuing our mission to develop sustainable cardiac care in Central America, promoting quality care and healthier communities.”

The echo lab openings in Zacapa and Quiché are part of an Echo Lab Network project launched in 2010 by the IMO program and by Guatemala’s cardiac center, UNICAR. The project, supported by the Dickson Family Foundation and Edwards Lifesciences Foundation, aims to provide 13 rural hospitals in Central America with fully-functional echo labs. In Guatemala, eight rural hospitals now have these labs and have provided more than 12,300 echocardiograms to thousands of patients.  

The echo labs are operated by technicians trained at UNICAR and at Carolinas HealthCare System’s Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute. To date, seven technicians from Guatemala have been trained with support from the IMO program. Hospitals that don’t have cardiologists on staff to read echocardiography results refer them to UNICAR, the most comprehensive cardiac center in Central America which performs more than 700 open heart operations per year.

“The network represents a major advancement in the way we provide cardiac care to patients with heart ailments in Guatemala,” said José Raúl Cruz Molina, MD, medical director of UNICAR. “We are proud to have worked with the IMO program for more than four decades on innovative projects like this one, and we look forward to our continued partnership, which allows us to leverage the resources of medical experts in Guatemala and at Carolinas HealthCare System.”

The echo machines were transported by Chiquita Brands’ vessels to Guatemala. Since May 2013, the IMO program and Chiquita have collaborated to distribute medical and computer supplies to hospitals, clinics and public schools throughout Central America. They have together transported more than 20 containers that have provided 11 hospitals and rural clinics with medical equipment and delivered more than 7,500 computers to 500 public schools.

“We take great pride in this partnership to improve access to quality healthcare and build healthier communities everywhere we operate,” said Manuel Rodriguez, Chiquita’s corporate responsibility officer. “Improving lives is embedded within Chiquita’s purpose; we join our Charlotte partners in celebrating this occasion for the people of Guatemala and look forward to helping many more through our joint creativity and commitment.”

Since the 1960s, the IMO program has donated medical equipment and supplies to hospitals and clinics in more than 30 countries and has facilitated free educational opportunities for medical personnel from facilities globally. In Guatemala, this includes the donation of HVAC units to clinics in need, with support from AirTight, as well as the donation of equipment and supplies for an intensive care unit in Hospital Nacional de Occidente in Quetzaltenango. In 2013 alone, IMO donated more than $4.3 million worth of medical and computer equipment worldwide, if purchased new.

Guatemalan Congressman Estuardo Ernesto Galdámez Juárez welcomes attendees to the echo lab opening at the regional hospital in Quiché.

Dr. Francis Robicsek and Fernando Paiz, president and vice president of Heineman Foundation, join representatives from Carolinas HealthCare System and from UNICAR at the echo lab opening in Quiché.

Jim Olsen, senior vice president for Carolinas HealthCare System, and Dr. Francis Robicsek, president of Heineman Foundation, unveil the signs next to the echo lab in the hospital in Quiché.

Dr. Francis Robicsek is joined by Dr. Jorge Alegria, from Carolinas HealthCare System’s Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute, and Jim Olsen, senior vice president for Carolinas HealthCare System, at the echo lab opening in the rural hospital in Zacapa.

Kevin Rubén Alay, echo technician at the regional hospital in Zacapa, performs an echo test on a patient the day of the opening.

Officials from the Heineman Foundation (Dr. Francis Robicsek, Fernando Paiz and Theresa Johnson) join Guatemala’s First Lady, Rosa María Leal de Pérez, in cutting the ribbon for the echo lab in Zacapa.