Heart to Heart has just returned home from our first-ever surgical-educational mission in Mexico! The most incredible highlight of this groundbreaking mission was the joint Heart to Heart-Torreon team performing open heart surgery on children at the University Hospital Dr. Joaquin del Valle Sanchez for the first time. Pediatric cardiac surgeon Gary Raff led Heart to Heart volunteer physicians, Grace Arteaga, Laura Berenstain, Kavitha Pundi, and Victor Rodriguez, and five other pediatric cardiac specialists, Glen Au, Alex Chappell, Olesya Dushkova, Dina Schmidt, and Mary Zanobini.
Each day immediately outside of the hospital campus, colorful festivities for La Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe filled the streets with parades of musicians and dancers. Inside the hospital, the Heart to Heart-Torreon team was celebrating a different occasion: making the impossible possible for our Mexican colleagues and their young patients. The Heart to Heart-Torreon team examined and diagnosed more than 20 children, ranging in age from two months to 12 years, and successfully performed life-saving surgery on five children.
One of the many beautiful children we met on our first day of examining patients was six-month-old Aitana––a bubbly baby girl dressed in a pink onesie brought to the hospital by her worried parents, aunts, and grandparents. Aitana’s thick curly hair and big brown eyes captivated us all, putting a smile on everyone’s face. Aitana was born with a hole in the lower two chambers of her heart, medically known as a ventricular septal defect (VSD), the most common of all heart defects. She needed surgery in order to live.
On Tuesday morning, December 11, 2018, Aitana became the first pediatric patient to undergo open heart surgery at Hospital Universitario. Her operation was made possible through the collaborative efforts of surgeons Gary Raff and Gerardo Serrano with strong support before, during, and after surgery from the fantastically skilled joint Heart to Heart-Torreon medical team. Throughout the week, baby Aitana’s post-operative recovery went well under the close watch of ICU specialists and the loving support of her grateful family.
Building a program from the ground up offers unique opportunities and challenges. More than 500 children are born with heart defects each year in the state of Coahuila alone. Hospital Universitario has the potential to become a regional medical hub for children with congenital heart disease. A self-sustaining children’s heart program in Torreon would bring a much-needed resource to the Hospital Universitario, its nationally recognized medical university, and to the underserved population of 10 million in northern Mexico.
Dr. Salvador Chavarría, Director of the Hospital Universitario’s Faculty of Medicine, is a gifted leader capable of guiding our collaboration forward to sustainability. He is “excited to bring Mexico’s children the treatment they deserve.” Heart to Heart is thrilled to be making history in this region by making open heart surgery a reality for local children.
Heart to Heart Global Cardiac Care is dedicated to developing new teams of specialists in areas of need in order to expand access to cardiac surgery worldwide.