For years now we have been seeing young patients in many countries who are suffering the long term effects of Rheumatic heart disease. If discovered early, treatment can prevent the progression.
This is why we have been teaching the rapid Echocardioloy screening method (Mentioned in a previous blog post). For those who already have advanced destruction of their valve, the only hope is to fix the valve or replace it with an artificial valve. As you can imagine, valve replacement is rarely available and very expensive when it can be done. It also requires the patient to commit to lifelong blood thinning and frequent expensive testing.
A few years ago we went to Nepal to learn a procedure where we could fix the valve without surgery. By passing a catheter to the heart and puncturing a hole across from the right side to the left atrium, we can put a balloon through the valve, inflate it and open the valve (which has been stuck closed with scar from the rheumatic fever). As far as we could tell, this has never been done outside of an expensive cardiac catheterization lab.
With much prayer, we did our first cases in February of 2014 at Tenwek Hospital in Kenya. We were able to do 14 cases with good results using only C-arm fluoroscopy instead of having a cath lab. Dr Rajib from Nepal came to Kenya to assist us. Last year we were able to fix 12 more hearts.
With this procedure patients are able to be discharged to home he next day and are not required to be on blood thinning medication. Our goal is to teach this procedure to local staff so that eventually no child from sub-Sahara Africa will be more than one border away from this life saving procedure.