Save a Child’s Heart Screens Over 100 Children in Ethiopia

November 21, 2016

Earlier this month, the Save a Child’s Heart team from Israel flew to Ethiopia on a screening mission. Head of Pediatric Cardiology at the Wolfson Medical Center Dr. Akiva Tamir, Children’s Surgical Ward Nurse Nava Gershon, Cardiac Technician Yifat Brosh and Save a Child’s Heart Young Leadership Coordinator and Child Life Specialist Rachel Werner traveled to the Black Lion Hospital in Addis Ababa and Jimma University Hospital in Jimma Ethiopia to screen children. Dr. Demeke who is currently training with Save a Child’s Heart to be a Pediatric Cardiologist as part of the first Pediatric Cardiac Surgical Team in Ethiopia, also accompanied the team to assess the population that he will go home and treat in just a few years.

When the team arrived to Ethiopia, they were greeted by the realization that all of the WiFi access in the country had been shut down. This proved to be a matter of life and death when they met 4-month old Kristian and her mother. When Dr. Tamir assessed Kristian, he immediately diagnosed her condition as urgent and decided that she would travel back with the team to Israel to undergo life-saving heart surgery. Unfortunately, due to the lack of internet access, our partner Dr. Etseginet was unable to process a visa for the baby. Determined to get her to Israel, Dr. Esteginet made it her mission over the next few days to ensure travel visas for Kristian. Thankfully, internet access was restored across the country and Dr. Esteginet was able to procure visas for Kristian and her mother, and just a few days later, the two were on a flight to Israel.

On the next day of the mission, Dr. Tamir met 6-month old Rafaella and her mother. Rafaella had anatomical problems with her heart due to congenital heart disease as well as an arrhythmia, an irregular heart beat that can cause heart failure. She was sent to the ICU to be monitored and it was decided that Dr. Tamir would do a procedure the next day in order to steady her heartbeat. Performing surgery on her would be impossible without a regular heartbeat. The next morning, with no guarantee that the procedure would work, the team prepared for baby Rafaella’s procedure. Dr. Tamir, helped by nurses at the Black Lion Hospital, performed an electric conversion procedure on Rafaella to steady her arythmia. When she woke up, her heart steadied! A few hours later she was cleared to return to her home. Now, with a steady heartbeat, Rafaella is a great candidate to be brought to Israel to fix her congenital heart defect.

That same day, the Israeli team met Israeli Ambassador to Ethiopia Belaynesh Zevadia. During her tour of the hospital, the Ambassador was shown how the team assess both follow-up children and new patients.

The team continued to Jimma University Hospital, where they screened 38 patients over two days. At the end of the second day, previous SACH patients presented Dr. Tamir with a plaque, thanking him for his work.

The team followed up with many previous Save a Child’s Heart patients as well! It was great to see the smiling faces of children who remember the team and their time in Israel.

It was wonderful working alongside our partners Dr. Etseginet Gedlu at the Black Lion Hospital in Addis Ababa and Professor Abraham Haileamlak at the Jimma University Hospital in Jimma in ensuring the success of our mission. Save a Child’s Heart is looking forward to bringing many of the children screened to Israel for treatment in the near future. Over the course of 5 days, the team screened 139 children, including 48 follow-ups screenings!

Save a Child’s Heart Young Leadership Coordinator and Child Life Specialist kept a blog while in Ethiopia. Read about all of the amazing stories from the mission below!

July 10

We found out on the way to the clinic at 5:00pm, that it was a clinic day of follow ups. I wasn‘t expecting to see children that I know and also those that I have read about and heard endearing stories of on the first day!

Walking up four flights of stairs to the ward was winding, but then arriving to see those smiling faces of what felt like old friends was a burst of fresh air. We all quickly said hello to the children and went inside the room to get to work.  Within about 7 minutes, what was an office room, turned into a dual echocardiogram room.

Cardiac Technician Yifat Brosh and Head of Cardiology, Dr. Tamir did, what felt like, a choreographed and rehearsed dance to set up all of the necessary equipment, while Head Pediatric Nurse Nava,with the help of two nurses from the Black Lion Heart Hospital, began to get the children in order, assessing them and reading their medical reports from their time in Israel.

When I initially walked onto the fourth floor of the hospital, the first face I saw was six year old Helina.  For 7 months not too long ago, she was also the first face I saw at the SACH House when I arrived in the morning every day of the week. We both looked at each other, a little bit hesitant, as the last time we saw each other was for an emotional goodbye, and then we hugged so tight that I could feel her heart beating.

Being with a team that has been doing this for so many years and has such developed relationships with our partners abroad like Dr. Etseginet, reminds me of the wide span that Save a Child‘s Heart has developed throughout it‘s 21 years of existence. Dr. Tamir and Dr. Etseginet spent the van ride to the hospital catching up like old friends. Their relationship is based on the mutual desire to save children‘s lives.

When I asked Dr. Tamir if it was nice for him to see the kids, he said ”it‘s nice to see them running and playing”
In just less than three hours the team saw 13 follow ups and 2 new screenings.

July 11

This is the day of good timing. So much has fallen into place for these children to come to this clinic. We had 9 children just today that were labeled urgent. Those who surely would not survive until our next visit in 2017.  These children are just here waiting to die.  They are sitting ducks so to say, and SACH is the group of kind strangers that are doing what we can to shuffle these innocent beings out of danger.

This morning we met Rafaella, a 6 month old baby girl who was diagnosed with anatomical problems with the heart due to congenital heart disease as well as an arrhythmia, an irregular heart beat that can cause heart failure. She was sent to the ICU to be monitored and it was decided that Dr. Tamir would do a procedure tomorrow to help steady her heartbeat. It would not be possible to repair her heart defects if her irregular heart beat was not resolved. Even if we do this procedure tomorrow, there is no guarantee that it will work, but the team will proceed because it is the only option. We must have hope.

Today, we also saw Baby Dawit, a now one and a half year old boy who was in Israel for surgery earlier this year.  He learned how to walk at the SACH Children‘s Home while he was recovering from surgery. When he was running through the halls of the Black Lion Heart Hospital today, other parents were asking about his time in Israel.  They asked how long he was in Israel for and I showed them videos of him learning to walk. This chubby little guy now has a healthy heart and a lot of energy to prove it!

We have seen 31 patients today, 11 follow ups and 20 new patients. After this long day, we will go to bed and prepare for a full day tomorrow.

July 12

First thing in the morning we went to the ICU to do an electric conversion procedure on Rafaella to steady her arythmia. The baby was sedated to be kept comfortable and after the procedure, her heart steadied! She was awake and alert and sent home a few hours later. This was an incredible display of teamwork between the staff at the Black Lion Heart Hospital along with the Israeli based SACH team. There were multiple doctors in the ICU crowded around her bed, including the Pediatric Intensivist and Dr. Akiva Tamir who performed the procedure, as well as plenty of nurses and support staff. Because of their efforts to save her life, Rafaella will now be able to come to Israel for surgery to repair the congenital heart defects!

After we returned from the ICU, we got to catch up with Hawi. Hawi is a 9 year old girl with Down Syndrome who had her surgery in Israel on November 18, 2015.  Unfortunately,  while recovering from surgery, Hawi suffered a stroke and lost function of the left side of her body. Thankfully, it was only temporary and Hawi continued recovering at Wolfson, receiving physical therapy.  It was great to see Hawi walking so well and using her left hand properly. Right before going to Israel, she went to school for 3 months, but was becoming too tired so she had to stop going.  After surgery, 9 year old Hawi will be going to Kindergarten in September for her first year of school.  Until she begins to go to school in September, she will spend her days as she does now, with the children in the neighborhood, who are all around her age. I was so happy to hear that she is progressing and continuing to develop and grow.  Hawi came to the clinic at Black Lion Heart Hospital with ”big” Dawit who she was in Israel with last year (along with Baby Dawit who we saw yesterday).  They sat together with their mom‘s all day long and chased each other through the hallways.

It has been more than once that I have heard ”I‘m not sure how this child is still alive.” Today is the day that I realized how hard Dr. Etseginet‘s job is. She is responsible for hundreds of little lives, and for many of them, there is nothing that she can do, except for hope. I‘m sure I will see the same once we get to Jimma. There must be hope for the future or else why do any of what we are doing.

Dr. Etseginet does so much for her patients, but as in most medical settings, there are variables that can make her job much more difficult than it already is. She explained that the families of the children that she works with, makes everything a little more complicated. She went on to say that some things about her job can be hard to deal with, the kids are worth it. She said ”the whole point is to make their lives as good as they can be.” We are glad to be partners with someone who shares our vision and mission.