Friday, August 28, 2009

Liberian Children receive echocardiograms

This is a storyI recently wrote. Today Bill Martin, the hospital manager, told me the president of Liberia actaully read it (which I thought was pretty cool :).

Liberian children receive echocardiograms

Emmanuel, 14, can’t play sports with his friends.

“Sometimes if I run with a friend, I’d get behind. When I stop, I am always breathing very fast,” said Emmanuel.

He was born with a congenital heart defect that has gone uncorrected for fourteen years. Currently, Emmanuel is experiencing several signs of congestive heart failure, including shortness of breath and swelling.

Born in Liberia, Emmanuel has not had access to the medical care needed to correct his heart condition. If he doesn’t have a surgical intervention, his symptoms will continue to worsen, ultimately leading to his death.

However, Emmanuel was recently referred to Dr. James Tomarken, a Yale-Clinton Foundation Senior Fellow in International Healthcare Management, at JFK Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia. Working with Mercy Ships and the Israeli-based international humanitarian project, Save a Child’s Heart, Dr. Tomarken and his associates have been able to help Liberian children with heart defects receive corrective surgery.

“Save a Child’s Heart will do the surgery if we raise the needed funds,” said Dr. Tomarken. “It’s very inexpensive; much of it is donated. There’s just a small amount to pay for,” said Dr. Tomarken. But before a patient can become a surgical candidate, the defect must be properly diagnosed. This requires an echocardiogram, a diagnostic ultrasound of the heart, which Liberia currently does not have the capacity to provide.

The Africa Mercy has both an echocardiogram machine and a physician trained to operate it. Taking advantage of a previously established partnership with Mercy Ships, Dr. Tomarken contacted the Africa Mercy’s Hospital Manager, William E. Martin, for assistance.

“Dr. Tomarken contacted me when I was in Liberia in July. He had several patients he wanted to be screened because there was a possibility they could receive open heart surgery in Israel,” said Martin.

Dr. Tomarken first partnered with Mercy Ships during the 2008 Field Service in Liberia. Mercy Ships physician, Dr. Wolfgang Edele, performed free echocardiograms for five children. “I saw five children in Liberia with the echo machine. Two of the children had successful open heart surgery,” said Dr. Edele.

This year, Dr. Tomarken had seven children in need of echocardiograms. Mercy Ships agreed to perform the tests, and the children recently came to Benin. They were accompanied by Dr. Tomarken and Liberian social worker, Chadesetta Williams. Mercy Ships provided the group with accommodations, food, and some transportation.

All seven children received echocardiograms, and the results have been sent to surgeons working with Save a Child’s Heart.

“Trying to get a diagnosis was almost impossible in Monrovia,” said Chadesetta Williams. “I thank God for Mercy Ships, and I pray they will continue to receive funding to continue with the services they are giving. It’s a very worthy cause.”
“Save a Child’s Heart (SACH) is an Israeli-based international humanitarian project, whose mission is to improve the quality of pediatric cardiac care for children from developing countries who suffer from heart disease and to create centers of competence in these countries. SACH is totally dedicated to the idea that every child deserves the best medical treatment available, regardless of the child's nationality, religion, color, gender or financial situation.” [from the Save a Child’s Heart website]

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