Friday, March 9, 2012

Team Heart gives patients new lease on life


HEALING HEARTS: Gentile, at left, with a post-operative patient who underwent a triple value and atrial septal defect closure, and Connie Kamali, nurse manager of the high dependency unit at King Faisal Hospital.


The goal was to repair patients’ hearts, but six MGH staff members who recently returned from a medical mission in Rwanda have discovered their hearts were also changed in the process.

“It is incredible to be part of giving someone’s life back,” said Connie Fail, RN, of the MGH Cardiac Surgery Intensive Care Unit (ICU), who served as team lead. “The only thing these young people want is to go on with their lives and be healthy.”

This marks the third trip Fail has taken with Team Heart, a volunteer organization that started its long-term
cardiac surgery mission to King Faisal Hospital in Kigali in 2007.  The nonprofit organization now sends a 35-member team of nurses and surgeons to the hospital on an annual basis. The teams perform surgical procedures and train clinical staff to help establish an independent, sustainable cardiac surgery program at the facility. Other MGH staff joining this year’s Boston-based surgical team were Dominic Gentile, RN, Alysia Monaco, RN, Ashley Kleinkauf, RN, all of the Cardiac Surgery ICU, as well as Maddie Mars, RN, and Chris Swanton, perfusionist, both of the Cardiac Operating Room.

During their 14-day stay, the team operated on 16 patients between the ages of 14 and 40 who suffer from chronic rheumatic heart disease, a condition in which uncontrolled infection has damaged heart valves and compromised the heart’s ability to pump blood.

“It was the opportunity of a lifetime,” said Gentile of his first Team Heart trip. “One of the biggest things I saw was how little people have, but how happy they are. They are very appreciative. It was also really great how we all worked as a team, among many disciplines.”

A few days following their return home, Team Heart received word that one of their most complicated patients had to be readmitted back into the hospital, where he later died. The same day, Fail said, she received a phone call from another patient who was thriving and wanted to once again share with the group how grateful she was for her new lease on life.

“She told us she’d found out that she got into law school that day,”
Fail said. “It was so touching, and it balanced the sadness a little bit. It really tugs at your heart when you see people taking full advantage of what we helped give to them.”

For more information on Team Heart, visit

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