Posted on May 1, 2013 · Posted in News

surgeryFor years, Tenwek has benefited from the visits of Dr. John Galat and his heart surgery team from the Munroe Regional   Medical Center in Ocala, Florida and the cardiac teams from Vanderbilt University in Tennessee and Brown University in Rhode Island. Open-heart surgery could only be performed six weeks out of every year when visiting teams came to Tenwek; even with that limitation, the hospital was performing about half of the pediatric cardiac surgeries in Kenya. Yet, despite all the talents of the Tenwek staff, they were unable to handle open-heart cases without assistance because no full-time employees of Tenwek had training in perfusion.

In 2012, Dr. Galat volunteered to host two of Tenwek’s nurse-anesthetists, Shadrack Kendagor and Andrew Bii, for the month of August in Ocala to study and observe perfusion as part of his team. Thanks to Dr. Galat’s generosity, all of the arrangements were in place—until the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi unexpectedly denied Andrew’s application for a tourist visa. Tenwek was in shock as administrators tried to figure out why such a trivial matter should be blocking such a huge leap forward in the hospital’s cardiac mission. After a great deal of prayer as well as phone calls and emails to knowledgeable friends in the United States, Andrew received his visa from the Embassy, on the last possible day before it would have been too late for him to complete training in Florida. We truly feel that the hand of God was involved in this process.

Shadrack and Andrew had a productive time in Florida before flying back to Kenya with Dr. Galat and his team on August 30. The Ocala team spent a week and a half at Tenwek doing open-heart cases, with Andrew and Shadrack applying the skills they had learned by observation in Florida. On September 12, for the first time in the 77-year history of the hospital, an all-Tenwek team performed open-heart surgery. The valve replacement finished without incident, and the patient left Tenwek feeling well several weeks later.

“15 years ago, I never would have imagined that we would be doing open-heart surgery at Tenwek Hospital,” reflects Dr. Russell White, Tenwek’s Chief of Surgery. “I would not have thought it was possible nor necessary. However, after seeing literally thousands of young people with rheumatic heart disease, the vast majority of whom die before they turn 20, and coming to realize that this can be managed effectively with a single operation in most cases, I’ve become a believer.”

Cardiac2Although mission hospitals are perhaps more commonly known for their work on infectious diseases, the World Health Organization predicts that in the next 20 years chronic diseases will far outnumber infectious diseases in the Third World. With this expansion in surgical offerings, Tenwek hopes to meet Kenya’s health needs for the future. In the United States, the majority of adult open-heart surgeries address acquired coronary artery disease. In Kenya, on the other hand, most open-heart surgery is needed for rheumatic heart disease (which has been almost eradicated in the US) and congenital lesions.

“To see a 15-year-old who can’t walk 25 feet without having to stop and rest transformed into a 15-year-old who is out playing soccer with his friends and living a normal life, has convinced me that these surgeries can be done at Tenwek Hospital,” Dr. White commented. So far, his belief has been correct, and for that we praise God.

Jane underwent surgery on September 13, the second case Tenwek has handled “in-house.” Her brother and son came to pick her up on the 21st to take her home to Eldoret (several hours’ journey by car). She looked vibrant and youthful, though she is quite shy and told doctors, “First and foremost I thank my almighty God who cares my life, since this illness is from the year 1984. So now I feel very well. Thanks.” Added her brother Andrew, “I thank Tenwek Hospital especially for assisting my sister in surgery. We have come very far, but Tenwek was the most wonderful place … I thank God.” Tenwek was the only place where Jane could get the surgery she needed.

Tenwek’s goal going forward will be to handle two open-heart cases per week. In general, the cases will be older children and young adults with single-valve rheumatic heart disease. Tenwek’s medical staff will continue to work with visiting teams to do more complex adult cases and small children and infants with congenital heart disease. Tenwek believes it is the only hospital in Kenya outside of Nairobi that offers these treatments. Please pray that our medical professionals would achieve continued success in these procedures.

By Gabriel Ellsworth

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