Geist RN Brings Hope to Sick Children in Middle East
Geist resident and Registered Nurse Becky Clark has traveled to the Middle East four times as part of a Riley Hospital medical team that has performed life-giving heart surgeries on 45 children in Amman, Jordan. Here she shares some of her favorite stories from her journeys.
The Gift of Life Program provides care for children with congenital heart defects who lack the resources to receive care in their native homeland. The program operates through local Rotary Clubs which collaborate with children’s hospital around the world to deliver care with no charge to the patient.
The Gift of Life Program began in Cardiothoracic Surgery Services at Riley Hospital for Children in July 1998 with a young four year old from St. Petersburg who required an aortic valve surgery. Since that time, we have completed 47 children from diverse regions of the world including China, Pakistan, Jamaica, Ecuador, Africa, Honduras, Haiti, Phillipines, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Early in 2006, through discussions with our Indianapolis Rotary Club, we started contemplating the idea of taking a team to one of these countries for a mission trip. Amman, Jordan, was selected because it had a favorable culture and capable hospitals, as well as an enthusiastic pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon who received his education in the United States but lacked the experience necessary to perform these kinds of surgeries with good outcomes.
It took approximately one year to finalize plans for this first trip. Under the leadership of our surgeon, Dr. Mark Turrentine, a team consisting of two operating room nurses, two intensive care nurses, a perfusionist and a pediatric cardiologist was compiled. Equipment and supplies were obtained through donations, and Rotary undertook fundraising for the cost of the flights and lodging for the team.
In March 2007, the team made the trip to Amman. The trip was hugely successful, with nine cardiothoracic surgeries completed. The cost of the surgeries, medical care and travel expenses for team members totaled approximately $65,000, which is the average cost or slightly less than the cost of one surgery for a child brought to Riley Hospital in Indianapolis for the same treatment.
During the second trip, in April 2008, there were 12 children completed, and on the third trip in October 2008, an additional 10 children received care. In late February 2009, we completed our fourth mission trip and our 45th child.
On our first mission trip, we operated on Ammar Sa’Ed Fayez Awni, a 10 year old from Baghdad, Iraq. He arrived with his mother and grandfather, who were very timid about the surgery. Before Ammar went home, with the help of an interpreter, his mother told us that his father had been killed by an American soldier in the war. They hated Americans and were fearful of how we would take care of their son. But, she said, in coming to Amman for surgery, “No one asked us if we were Muslim or Christian, if we believed in the war or not, or any other preconceived notion. We have been well taken care of and treated with kindness. When we return to Iraq, I will tell my family and my friends that Americans are just like us — they love the children, they care about people, and they have good hearts.”
Also on the first mission trip, we met, Farah, a 2 year old from Syria living in a refugee camp in Amman. Farah was born with only one ventricle in her heart and was very blue when we met her. The parents said very little during the evaluation and pre-operative stage. She did well in the OR, and then on the third post-operative day as the team was making rounds, the mother rushed to our female cardiologist and de-veiled to kiss her multiple times on the cheek. This is a really big display for a traditional Muslim woman in the Middle East.
On our second mission, Farah’s family invited us to visit them at the refugee camp. They live very humbly and have literally nothing. As we sat on the floor of their home, the children all sat with us and brought canned drinks and hugged us. The father wanted to slaughter a lamb for our dinner in an offer of friendship (which we didn’t allow) and then tried to give us their camel rug — one of their only possessions. As we left that night, many children of the refugee camp came out to see us and gathered around the team to thank us for taking care of Farah.
On our fourth mission trip, Farah returned to the hospital for her final staged procedure, and the entire family came along. They never enter without the traditional kiss to each cheek along with a warm embrace, and never leave without thanking us and telling us that we are like their family and will always be friends.
What the program has accomplished:
1) The surgeon in Amman, Dr. Fadi Khoury, has gained much experience in the field of pediatric heart surgery.
2) We have saved the lives of 45 children who had no means to receive the needed care in any other way.
3) We have established relationships with medical personnel in the Middle East. We continue to review studies and consult on request.
4) We are working with the government appropriations board at Clarian to initiate telemedicine robots in up to four different sites including Jordan, Baghdad, Iraq and Syria.
We have represented Riley Hospital and Americans as a whole to a diverse population of peoples in the Middle East, establishing trust and friendships with our patients and families, many of who continue to stay in touch.
In nursing, opportunities such as this are rare. I am fortunate to have had the ability to participate in such a tremendous experience. I’m really proud of the team and the work we’ve done there. I hope to continue with the same and hopefully to grow the efforts into telemedicine and an international clinic. And it is my hope that just maybe we’ve made a difference in the perceptions of some in the middle east in regard to relationships with Americans.
How you can help:
If you would like to make a donation to International Mission Trips for Kids with Congenital Heart Defects, please make checks payable to Riley Hospital (Memo: Riley Heart Center International Mission Funds) and mail to:
Cardiothoracic Surgeons, Inc.
Attention: Becky Clark, R.N.
545 Barnhill Drive, Suite 215
Indianapolis, IN 46202