Dramatic Changes for Open Heart Surgery Program

Previous children helped through the Solidarity Bridge Open Heart Program.

Previous children helped through the Solidarity Bridge Open Heart Program.

Written by: Jodi Grahl, Director of General Surgery, Gynecology & Pacemaker Programs

Hundreds of babies are born each year in Bolivia with congenital heart defects. Most of their families cannot afford the corrective surgery they need. The Solidarity Bridge Open Heart Program attempts to connect these babies and children to care. Unfortunately, until now this care was only available at two or three private hospitals. As a result, we could only help about a dozen children a year. Even when our selfless Bolivian partner doctors donate their time and skills and the hospitals grant generous discounts, costs remain high. Plus, the number of intensive care beds in the private hospitals is limited. Even with the best of intentions, the need for specialized pediatric cardiac services vastly exceeds national capacity.

So we began to ask: How can we slash costs? At the same time, how can we open up more beds for so many who need help?

Both of these goals might be met if only we could operate in a public hospital. There are a handful of pediatric hospitals in the country, but none with the sophisticated facilities needed to perform complex children’s heart surgery. Even if we could equip and staff an OR to perform the surgeries, additional specialized facilities such as a Cardiac Care Unit (CCU) are needed to keep the babies alive until they are ready for surgery and especially while their tiny bodies heal afterward.

Is there a hospital that could take on this challenge? Who would champion and coordinate such an effort? How can we make this happen? As is always the case, it will have to start with solidarity.

We all know it takes a village to raise a child. But sometimes it takes an entire international community to keep them alive and give them a chance….

Read our blog post next week where we’ll talk about the gathering of minds and assembling of partners that followed the call. In the meantime, meet one of the babies we have helped in recent years!

Solidarity Bridge Open Heart surgery patient, Keyla Flores. 

Solidarity Bridge Open Heart surgery patient, Keyla Flores. 

Keyla Flores

Keyla was born with a “swiss cheese” ventrical septal defect, meaning the wall dividing her heart was riddled with holes. Such cases often require weeks in the hospital and multiple surgeries. If repairs don’t begin by age one, babies are left with irreversible obstructive lung disease. Keyla underwent surgery at just 6 months, and continues to be monitored and followed by our Bolivian social workers and medical partners for any further care she needs.