After three visits to Guyana, the International Children’s Heart Foundation (ICHF or Baby Heart) has left behind an important structure necessary for the surgical care of paediatric patients. This is in addition to the 42 paediatric surgeries completed in collaboration with the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) and the Ministry of Public Health.
Speaking at a press conference held at the GPHC yesterday, Minister of Public Health George Norton thanked Baby Heart for the work it has done in Guyana.
Describing the collaboration between the foundation and the Guyanese people as a success story, Norton emphasised that surgery is complex. “We need to have not just the surgeon but other professionals all involved in order for that operation to be successful. An important structure has been left behind by Baby Heart. We are trying to build the capacity of the GPHC to cater to cardiac paediatric patients and so we thank Baby Heart for promoting the training of local personnel,” he said.
Sheik Amir, Director of Medical Professional Services at GPHC, explained that before the formation of the Echocardiography Education Programme by Dr Debra Isaac at the hospital, “Children were diagnosed haphazardly and were being sent abroad for minuscule investigations.” He explained that some even arrived for surgery only to be told that they didn’t need surgery.
Dr Isaac, he said, led the path of defining the children who required surgery after which the need arose to find an affiliate body to actually perform the surgeries.
According to Amir, the choice of Baby Heart was ideal, since the “principal tenets of their operations was not to do surgeries but to do training and to increase supply of equipment and instruments to the institutions with which they work; all at a low cost as such the benefits far outstripped the costs to the government of Guyana.”
Dr Marisa Seepersaud, who is the consultant Paediatric Surgeon at GPHC, said that as the only paediatric surgeon in the country operating with one member of staff, she is pleased with the benefits both immediate and potential of the collaboration with Baby Heart.
Seepersaud explained that the immediate benefits of the correction of 42 cardiac anomalies in children (17 fixed on this particular mission) and 14 cardiac cauterisations are just as important as the training of personnel and building of the GPHC’s capacity for critical care of paediatric patients.
She said that for the year 20 nurses, seven paediatric residents and registrars, three anaesthetists, six operating room technicians and two surgeons have been trained.
Additionally, for the first time, the hospital has a fully equipped Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU).
“Ventilators, monitors, infusion pumps and other equipment such as a heart lung machine have been donated by the Baby Heart foundation,” Seepersaud said, while adding that a second heart lung machine has been promised as well as a plasma steriliser.
This equipment will benefit not just paediatric cardiac cases, but also paediatric general cases, adult general cases and adult cardiac cases. Other supplies can be used for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Anaesthesiology Department.
The plasma steriliser is especially useful, according to Seepersaud, as many medical supplies that are currently being discarded will be sterilised and reused.
She particularly noted that the GPHC’s PICU is one of two centres in the region which provide paediatric cardiac surgical services.
“So far we have outstripped them in the number of surgeries and I believe it is because they depend on a general ICU when we don’t,’ Seepersaud said.
“We have an opportunity to stand out and be an example of how things should be done,” she added, while noting that per child the completed surgeries cost US$3,000 as opposed to the US$30,000 it previously cost for surgeries in Toronto and St Kitts.
This cut in cost does not come at the sacrifice of quality and mortality, Seepersaud said.
“First world mortality rate for cardiac surgeries hovers above 4% but for ICHF this year its 1.5%, way below that number and in Guyana the mortality rate is zero so far in 3 missions. This is due to several factors, including dedication of local staff who worked consistently for the last two weeks,” she said.
The Baby Heart Foundation is a non-profit group that travels around the world to help in paediatric cardiac surgeries.
Dr Rodrigo Soto, CEO of clinical operations with the foundation, explained that in their first visit to Guyana this January, Baby Heart recognised both the need for their services as well as the potential of Guyana. This potential included the willingness of the administration to cooperate and see the collateral benefits of a collaboration.
Congenial heart disease, he said, is a huge deal which “influences infant mortality in Guyana, so addressing it will affect infant mortality rate significantly.”
He added that “when you build paediatric care services you are upgrading and building ancillary services which is helping other patients that go the hospital. The PICU was not operating before and now we have a core of nurses and physicians trained and it will be open 24/7 to help any patient who comes to GPHC. It is not just for kids with congenial heart disease but for all kids of Guyana.”