Tiny patients at Mulago Hospital recuperate from heart surgery.

Tiny patients recuperate from heart surgery at Mulago Hospital.(Includes information from a blog by Keith Kocis, M.D., team leader for the Uganda mission.)

A UNC medical team provided heart surgery for 10 children with complex congenital heart defects during this year’s two-week medical mission to Mulago Hospital, Makerere University, in Kampala, Uganda. All of the children were doing well when the UNC team left Kampala on Wednesday, Oct. 7.

This was the third year that the UNC team had visited Uganda, where they are training health care providers at the Uganda Heart Institute. The missions aim to help the pediatric cardiac surgery program become self sufficient in providing care for children with heart disease. The UNC team includes physicians (a pediatric heart surgeon, a pediatric anesthesiologist, a pediatric cardiologist and pediatric intensive care doctors); a pediatric nurse practitioner and a physician’s assistant who specialize in cardiac surgery; operating room and intensive care unit nurses; respiratory therapists; a perfusionist; and a biomedical engineer.

The team members left North Carolina on Sept. 26, carrying 900 pounds of medical equipment and supplies with them on their flight. When they arrived at the hospital in Uganda, the team quickly set up the operating room, perfusion equipment, and intensive care unit. Team members Karla Brown, Ruben Bocanegra, Katherine Desrochers, and Jennifer Ditto had collected and prepared the supplies and equipment for shipment, a months-long process.

Dr. Michael Mill, a pediatric heart surgeon from UNC, performed two operations a day for the first four days of the visit, with one additional operation on Oct. 3, and one on Oct. 5.  This year, the children receiving surgery were smaller and younger than those who received surgery on past visits, and this year’s patients had more complex congenital heart lesions. Seven of the children who received surgery weighed less than 10 kg (about 22 pounds). The team cared for the children 24 hours a day, overcoming challenges such as brief power outages, equipment breakdowns and repairs, and illnesses of team members.

The children who had the surgery are all recuperating well, and their spirits, energy, and appetites have markedly improved, team members reported. Without surgery, the children would have died from their heart defects; now, they can live normal lives.

The Uganda heart program mission has generous support from Samaritan’s Purse and the UNC Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases. A team from the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington also participates in Uganda missions. After the UNC team’s last mission in October 2008, partners from Children’s National Medical Center  returned in April 2009 and operated on an additional 10 children while advancing the Uganda program. The Ugandan team in-country has successfully repaired three additional children.

The 2009 UNC team members:
Keith Kocis, MD, UNC pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) physician; team leader
Michael Mill, MD, UNC pediatric heart surgeon
Eugene Freid, MD, anesthesiologist from Nemours Children’s Clinic, Jacksonville, Fla.
Stacey Peterson-Carmichael, MD, PICU physician from Duke
Parvin Dorostkar, MD, PICU cardiologist, University of Minnesota
Ruben Bocanegra, PA-C, UNC physician’s assistant
Karla Brown, RN, MSN, PNP, UNC pediatric nurse practitioner for cardiothoracic surgery
Greg Griffin, UNC perfusionist
Jennifer Ditto, RN, PNP, UNC surgical scrub nurse
Katherine Desrochers, RN, UNC PICU nurse
Susan Van Fleet, RN, UNC PICU nurse
John Bryson, RN, UNC PICU nurse
Diane Yorke, RN, PhD, UNC School of Nursing faculty
Jeannie Koo, RN, PNP, PICU pediatric nurse practitioner from Duke
Sheila White, RRT, UNC respiratory therapist
Lupe Haynes, RRT, UNC respiratory therapist
Elizabeth Smith, UNC medical engineer, and her husband

Read the blog written by UNC participants in this year’s mission.

The work at Mulago Hospital began after a group of UNC physicians established the Amal Murarka International Pediatric Health Foundation in memory of their colleague, Dr. Amal Murarka, a UNC PICU physician who died in a traffic accident in 2003. The foundation sent a medical team to Kampala to establish the country’s first pediatric intensive care unit at Mulago Hospital, where Dr. Murarka had previously conducted research. Subsequent work in 2007, 2008 and 2009 has focused on pediatric cardiac surgery. The teams have established a cardiac ICU and have performed more than 30 life-saving pediatric cardiac surgeries. Team members have trained nurses at the Ugandan hospital in post-surgical care of pediatric heart surgery patients.

In 2008 the Murarka foundation partnered with the Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases to establish UNC Project-Uganda.

To make a gift in support of UNC-Uganda, click here.

To read a recent Carolina Alumni Review article about the team’s 2008 mission to Mulago Hospital, click here. (To get rid of the black pop-up box, click on the “x” at the top right hand corner of the box.)