Healing Without Borders: Cardiac Surgery and Education in Uganda

By 7:30 a.m. at Mulago Hospital in Kampala, Uganda, the line of children and parents already stretched out the door. Families had traveled a long way to have their children treated for heart disease. In February 2014, with funding from generous donors, a cardiology team from Children’s National led by Dr. Craig Sable, traveled to Kampala to conduct diagnostic procedures and life-saving treatment on children with serious heart conditions. For 15 years, the cardiac team has visited developing countries to provide care and to train in-country healthcare workers in the procedures they perform. A main goal of the project is to build a sustainable and independent cardiac program at the Ugandan hospital. On the most recent trip, Dr. Sable and his team worked long hours for two weeks. Along with treating children and training doctors and nurses, they educated families about heart disease so the children could receive proper follow-up care. In Uganda, the team frequently encountered children with the most common congenital heart condition, Tetralogy of Fallot (TOF), which severely restricts oxygen from getting to the blood. In the developed world, children born with this condition usually have it repaired by the age of six months, with excellent outcomes. Sadly, in places like Uganda, without surgery, many of these children die before their 10th birthday. Because of Dr. Sable and the Children’s National team, four very sick 4-year-olds received the surgery. Three of them were operated on the same day—the first time three open-heart surgeries had ever been done in one day in Uganda. Noel underwent his surgery the following day. Before the surgery, all of them could barely walk from lack of oxygen in their blood. Following the surgery, all the children recovered well. With the skill transfer between doctors from Children’s National and the doctors at Mulago, and an ongoing relationship between the two hospitals, one day soon Ugandan doctors will be able to repair the hearts of children like these, allowing them to live full and hopefully long, healthy lives.

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