Imagine you or a loved one has suffered a heart attack, having chest pains, trouble breathing.
And the only hospital available is using treatments we had more than 40 years ago. That’s the situation in the Dominican Republic and an Evansville team of surgeons, nurses, and other providers are once again heading there to change lives, to save lives.
It’s called the Heart-to-Heart Mission.
Eyewitness News’ Brad Byrd talks with Dr. Lee Wagmeister, a cardio-thorasic surgeon, and Kelly Talbot, RN Team Lead, about this mission.
Brad Byrd: Imagine you or a loved one has suffered a heart attack, having chest pains, trouble breathing. And the only hospital available is using treatments we had more than 40 years ago. That’s the situation in the Dominican Republic and an Evansville team of surgeons, nurses, and other providers are once again heading there to change lives, to save lives. It’s called the Heart-to-Heart Mission. This is just not a small group of doctors and providers going out on holiday on a trip to the Caribbean to work with other doctors. You’re literally moving a sizeable slice of 21st Century technology to a hospital that’s probably 40 years behind us. How long will that take and tell me if you can break that down?
Kelly Talbot: We probably started about a good year ago. Thinking about what we are going to do again to get this ready. We had the advantage of doing this once before and this is our second trip. Had a lot of our old information from what we took down before – we streamlined it from things we learned. Basically, we started going through the list and started talking to vendors to get donations, worked closely with Deaconess Hospital, who was able to sponsor us for this trip. They allowed us to start getting supplies together and started working.
Brad Byrd: And when we talk about supplies, we’re talking about – talk about those supplies because they’re critical to what you’re doing.
Dr. Lee Wagmeister: Everything you would need for an operation, or in this case, multiple operations. Everything from the suture to the instruments sometimes. Just think of what goes into a heart operation and it can be quite a bit.
Brad Byrd: A couple years ago, we have a shot of the group packing up. Take a look at that right there. Just knowing what’s in what box. How many boxes did this take last time? What are you going to be taking this year?
Dr. Lee Wagmeister: Last time it was 50 boxes. We got a little smarter this time and were able to consolidate. Actually, some of our supplies are still there. About 40 boxes this time.
Brad Byrd: Ok, and you’ll be there for about 1 week. And Kelly, there’s a lot of pressure on nurses in this day in age. What drives you to do this?
Kelly Talbot: You’re right there is a passion behind this. We are actually taking a couple new individuals with us, some of the team members who haven’t gone before. They’re excited to go. It’s hard to explain what we accomplish down there, we talked before about it being a gift to these patients, it’s also a gift to us. Just the gratitude you feel from these patients. We’re just doing a lot of good work down there.
Brad Byrd: And there’s a picture of you, Dr. Wagmeister. This is in the OR that you helped setup down there. How many surgeries in this 1-week period?
Dr. Lee Wagmeister: There will be two teams, we’ll do about 12 surgeries so, we’ll essentially do 6 over the course of half a week. It’s a lot of work.
Brad Byrd: And both of you have your plates pretty full here in Evansville. The time needed to get into a different mode, working with the doctors down there, describe that experience.
Dr. Lee Wagmeister: As Kelly just said, we’re giving a gift to the patient, we’re giving a gift to the family, and then we’re also in a teaching mode because the experience we can pass onto them, in time, hopefully they’ll be doing this too.
Brad Byrd: And the age groups. Last time it was pretty widespread.
Dr. Lee Wagmeister: It was 27 years old to early 60s. it’s a variety of ages, with a variety of cardiac conditions.
Brad Byrd: And we were describing that anyone in this country, it’s within driving or flight distance if you need critical cardiac care, but down there the limitations are so great for that type of medical care. What have you learned from all this?
Dr. Lee Wagmeister: Last time we did it, a gentleman in his early 50s, he had a bad valve and you might do a mechanical valve in this country at that age, because he has a 20- or 30-year life expectancy. In his case, he couldn’t get any medical care, he couldn’t get the blood thinner we use – so we put a tissue valve in – just like you said, it’s takes them two hours to get to the local hospital.
Brad Byrd: After the procedure is over, are they afraid? How do they react after they come out of these procedures?
Kelly Talbot: Complete gratitude. They’re very unafraid. Probably the bravest people and families I have ever had the pleasure to work with.
Brad Byrd: Kelly, you told me there are tears in that OR after they emerge.
Dr. Lee Wagmeister: The last day when you say goodbye, the emotions from the family, the staff and our team is – you can’t put words on it.
Brad Byrd: You fly out Friday. And possibly do a Skype interview. You’ll also have a blog and people can go to deaconess.com/heartmission. And that should be live by the end of the week, right?
Dr. Lee Wagmeister: Hopefully, this weekend we’ll start sending pictures. We did that last time. It seemed to have been successful and people seemed to have been interested. And we’ll find time to talk to you next week.
Brad Byrd: Dr. Wagmeister and Kelly thank you for joining me tonight.
(This story was originally published on October 7, 2019)