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A medical team from the Monroe Carell Jr. Childrenís Hospital at Vanderbilt traveled to Kenya recently to perform much-needed cardiac surgeries. Here, Diedre Hulvey, R.N., plays with patient Chelengat Ngetich. photo by Tom Klein

Vanderbilt team performs cardiac surgeries in Kenya

BY: LESLIE HAST

1/16/2009 - 

Vanderbilt’s Michael Liske, M.D., discusses a case with Agneta Odera, M.D., in Kenya’s Tenwek Hospital. photo by Tom Klein

Vanderbilt’s Michael Liske, M.D., discusses a case with Agneta Odera, M.D., in Kenya’s Tenwek Hospital. photo by Tom Klein

Members of the Vanderbilt surgical team and Kenyan colleagues prepare for a procedure. photo by Tom Klein

Members of the Vanderbilt surgical team and Kenyan colleagues prepare for a procedure. photo by Tom Klein

Medical student Alekzandra Grzeszczak holds a coloring book for a patient recovering from heart valve surgery. photo by Tom Klein

Medical student Alekzandra Grzeszczak holds a coloring book for a patient recovering from heart valve surgery. photo by Tom Klein

In November, a medical team from the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt made the first of what organizers hope will be many trips to Tenwek Hospital in Western Kenya.

“I just thought other people in the world needed our services,” said Michael Liske, M.D., unassumingly describing his desire to take the team more than 8,000 miles to perform nine heart surgeries.

“I believe that to whom much has been given, much is required. We have tremendous resources in the U.S. in personnel, finances and equipment. A small number of those resources can be applied to underserved patients elsewhere to make a big difference,” Liske said.

The Children's Hospital team, which included a surgeon, perfusionists, two intensive care doctors, two cardiologists, three nurses, and a cardiac anesthesiologist, joined with four volunteers from Brown University and Samaritan's Purse for the trip.

Liske, a pediatric cardiologist, chose Tenwek Hospital because he attended medical school with the chief surgeon there. He took an exploratory trip last January to check the equipment and space and screen patients, and the team returned Nov. 8-18 to perform the surgeries.

“It was a big success, especially for the first time doing it, but we had such a great team of people,” said Rebekah Nesbitt, R.N.

Although the schedule was grueling, with staff working about 14- to 16-hour shifts, Deidre Hulvey, R.N., said the results far outweighed the cost.

“It was great to see them all recover. We knew all the exhaustion was worth it,” she said. “Hearing them talk about how their lives had been changed and how they could now run with their friends or grow wheat brought a whole new dimension to how it touched our hearts.”

Prior to the trip, the team gathered the necessary equipment and medication, and donated much of it to the hospital before leaving.

“They have very limited resources and supplies. They are reusing some things that we would consider disposable,” said Mary Beth Boyd, R.N.

Some team members also performed community health work, including immunization administration. In the future, Liske hopes to target rheumatic fever, a preventable illness that can lead to serious heart valve complications.

“All it takes to prevent this is getting antibiotics to kids with strep throat,” Liske said. “Instead of open heart surgery for 10 people, we can spend the same amount of money to prevent hundreds of cases.”

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