Their parents earn as little as $2 a day selling tacos or doing manual labor. They live in one-room homes made of sheet metal, adobe and cardboard. But for seven days in October, these 12 children received the world-class cardiac care they needed—courtesy of a team headed by the University of Michigan Health System. And a cardiac team in El Salvador can now give similar care to the children in their country.
This is the second time the UMHS team has traveled to El Salvador as part of an international collaborative sponsored by Gift of Life International (GOLI). After the team’s visit last year, GOLI and Hospital Bloom asked that they return.
This time, the team trained the Salvadoran surgeons to perform more advanced cardiac surgeries on lesions such as tetralogy of Fallot and atrioventricular septal defects (AVSD). They also continued training on the new echocardiogram machine concentrating on transesophageal echocardiography, trained a newly hired perfusionist, enhanced the skills of the ICU nurses and respiratory therapists as they began taking care of more complex patients, and helped improve communication among the entire pediatric cardiac team.
In addition, they provided training in diagnosis, medical management, cardiac anesthesiology, post-operative cardiac care, intensive care nursing, and discharge planning.
“The goal for the entire international collaborative has been to help El Salvador develop its own sustainable pediatric cardiac surgery program,” says team leader Lisa Beckman, BSN, MSMI, Pediatric Cardio-Thoracic ICU (PCTU).
That goal is close to being achieved. After several successful missions with several institutions, including U-M, Hospital Bloom’s pediatric cardiac program can now perform close to 150 surgeries a year, providing previously unavailable medical treatment to children with significant heart disease.
“There is no greater reward than seeing the pride on the faces of the Salvadoran cardiac team as they successfully care for and ‘cure’ one of their own desperate children,” says Gabe Owens, M.D., Ph.D., clinical assistant professor, U-M Congenital Heart Center.
“Having the University of Michigan involved in this type of program highlights the incredible efforts of the Congenital Heart Program and exemplifies the desire to help children locally and afar, further pushing us as a leading pediatric cardiac center,” he adds.
“One is forced to think about the patient and the physiology in a different light, without one’s usual technological resources,” says Owens. “You end up with a rejuvenated respect for medicine and nursing care.”
2012 U-M Gift of Life El Salvador Mission Team:
- Gabe Owens, M.D., Ph.D., Pediatric Cardiology, Pediatric Cardiac Critical Care
- Eric Devaney, M.D., Pediatric Cardiothoracic Surgeon, University of California-San Diego (formerly U-M)
- Wendy Whiteside, M.D., Pediatric Cardiology Fellow
- Kevin Griffith, Perfusionist
- Steve Moss, Perfusionist (from the University of Chicago)
- Nancy Wellman, Respiratory Therapist
- Wendy Watson, Respiratory Therapist
- Lisa Beckman, PCTU nurse
- Whitnie McNeil, PCTU nurse
- Meredith Bajor, PCTU nurse
- Erika Warrington, PCTU nurse
- Christina Kusiak, PCTU nurse
- Wendy Grigg, PCTU nurse
In addition to the missions to El Salvador, this past summer, the Congenital Heart Center here at the University of Michigan hosted an intensivist, a nurse manager and a senior staff nurse from El Salvador.
“Our Salvadoran colleagues were of course impressed with our beautiful new Children’s Hospital when they visited,” says Beckman. “But what they were most impressed with was our multidisciplinary collaboration and teamwork in the PCTU.” They soon began incorporating these lessons in their own Pediatric Cardiac Program in El Salvador.