Pediatric Heart Team Performs Lifesaving Surgery in Nicaragua

July 30, 2002
News Office: Janet Basu (415) 502-4608

An international medical team -- led by pediatric heart surgeon Dr. Tom Karl of UCSF Children's Hospital -- traveled to Nicaragua with $90,000 worth of medical supplies and equipment to perform lifesaving heart surgery on children.

The two-week goodwill trip in early July was organized by the International Children's Heart Foundation, based in Memphis, Tenn., a nonprofit charitable organization dedicated to treating children in developing countries.

This is the third trip to Nicaragua for Karl, who is chief of pediatric cardiothoracic surgery at the UCSF Pediatric Heart Center. Five others from UCSF made the trip for the first time -- pediatric cardiologist Mike Brook; pediatric intensive care nurses Diana Beim, Marilyn Irovando and Megan Tracey; and respiratory therapist Soledad Carias. Others among the 18-member team -- all volunteers -- were from Memphis, Philadelphia and Boise as well as Australia, Costa Rica, Chile and Spain.

During the visit, 20 children with congenital heart disease underwent surgery at Hospital Infantil Manuel de Jesus Rivera in Managua, the only children's hospital in Nicaragua. Procedures performed include repair of various holes in the heart, called septal defects, as well as more complex cases.

Medical supplies were shipped free of charge by Federal Express. Other sponsors included the Gift of Life Inc. of New Jersey, a charitable program of the Rotary Clubs; Project Open Hearts, a nonprofit organization based in Denver, Colo., that provides surgical training and diagnostic services and treatment for needy children; and American Airlines.

Karl has operated in seven countries including Malaysia, Hong Kong, Italy, Spain, Chile, Vietnam and Nicaragua as part of various medical missions. Dr. William Novick, medical director of the International Children's Heart Foundation, said the organization relies heavily on the dedication and generosity of Karl. "We could not do what we do in Nicaragua without Tom," Novick said.

Karl's team performs heart surgeries necessary to save the lives of children in Nicaragua, one of the poorest, most urban nations in Central America, and is helping train a local pediatric cardiac unit, which would be the only open heart program in the country. About 1,300 Nicaraguan children are born with heart defects each year and about 60 percent of them need surgery. Without this surgery, many of them will die or struggle to survive, Novick said.

Novick, a pediatric heart surgeon at the University of Tennessee, said foundation volunteers performed the first open heart surgery in Nicaragua in 1996. The foundation makes more than a dozen medical trips a year to serve countries including former Soviet republic Belarus, China, Columbia, Croatia, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Palestine, Peru, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Venezuela and Yugoslavia.

Heart defects in children require advanced skill and treatments far different than those for the heart disease that strikes most adults. Using the knowledge acquired at UCSF and throughout the world, the UCSF Pediatric Heart Center is a leader in the care of children with heart conditions. To contact the heart center, please call, (415) 353-2008.

For help finding a doctor, please contact our Physician Referral Service at UCSF Children's Hospital at (888) 689-UCSF or referral.center@ucsfmedctr.org.

More information about the International Children's Heart Foundation is available at http://www.babyheart.org/.