In February 2014, a team of Save a Child’s Heart’s Doctors and Staff travelled to Zanzibar, Tanzania for yet another medical mission.
The team was led by Dr. Akiva Tamir, Head of the Pediatric Cardiology Unit at the Wolfson Medical Center, Yifat Brosh, Pediatric Echocardiography Technician at Wolfson Medical Center, and long-time SACH volunteer Sarah Haverbeke.
Joining SACH’s team in Zanzibar were Dr. Ulrike Doll, Cardiologist, from the Klinikum Muenchen in Germany and Dr. Nicolle Heaffner paediatrician and founder of the organization Kinderhilfe Sansibar.
Day One – February 17th, 2014
The first to arrive in Zanzibar were the German Doctors and Sarah. They were all welcomed at the airport by Dr. Omar Suleiman, Director and Coordinator of Pediatric Cardiology at Mnazi Mmoja Hospital in Zanzibar. After a quick shower and a snack they immediately went to the hospital to view the facilities. Many families came from all over Zanzibar to meet our doctors and a long line of children was awaiting the team. When the equipment was set up, Dr. Heaffner and Dr. Doll started examining the first patients.
By the time the second part of the team arrived from Israel, the German doctors were almost falling asleep. However, with the arrival of the Israeli’s their energy was renewed and they all sat to discuss the most challenging cases of the day. After that they met up with Dr. Godwin Godfrey and Dr. Antke Zuechner who came from Mwanza, Tanzania, to work with the team.
At the end of the day the whole team took a little walk near the seashore for some air and ended the first night eating fresh fish and preparing for the challenging task that lay ahead of them.
Day Two – February 18th, 2014
The second day the team met early for a quick, healthy breakfast and went straight to the hospital. Once again dozens of parents and children were waiting for a chance to see the doctors.
The local hospital staff was kind enough to set up three rooms next to each other, so that the doctors could jump from room to room for a second opinion, a profound discussion, or simply to learn from each other and share the experience. After a mere couple of hours it seemed like this team had been working together for years. The local nurses prepared and organized the children while the doctors performed the echo’s, case by case making life changing decisions.
By the end of this day the doctors had finished screening new patients. The following days would be dedicated to conducting follow up echos on past SACH patients. After organizing the paperwork this intense and long working day ended, with a total of 107 new patients screened.
The team capped off the day with a short stroll and a group dinner. After that they all went straight to bed knowing that the next day will be a busy one, as the nurses had invited 200 children for follow up echos.
Day Three – February 19th, 2014
Like experienced early birds the team met again for breakfast at seven. After a good night sleep they were all ready to see the follow up patients, and as it turned out, there were many more children than expected waiting for them at the clinic. Compared to the prior two days, there were notably less babies and more handsome young boys and lovely young ladies– some of them already parents themselves!
As the doctors set up their echo machines, Sarah was interviewing the young adults who came to Israel for surgery in the past. In the middle of these interesting conversations, she was called away by a doctor who wanted our cardiologists to check a twelve day old baby from the neonatal department who was in critical condition. Dr. Tamir decided immediately that he wanted to take him to Israel the very next day for care.
As this day was the day of follow ups, there were many joyful reunions between mothers, children, and medical staff. It was great to see them and the smiles on their faces once they recognized the team.
The team accomplished something amazing on this day of the medical mission. By working non-stop from 8am till 9pm, they were able to see all the patients that showed up (over 100), AND managed to arrange for the little baby boy to go to Israel the next day for his lifesaving heart surgery.
After more than 12 hours in the hospital, the team went for a well deserved dinner and most fell asleep before their heads hit the pillow.
Day Four- February 20th, 2014
After breakfast the whole team, including the local staff, was introduced to the vice president of Zanzibar. Both Dr. Tamir and Dr. Heffner gave very dynamic and motivating speeches, and the gratitude about this exceptional cooperation was expressed sincerely by both teams.
After this visit the team returned to the hospital, curious to see if anybody showed up on this last day as the nurses had told them that most patients had already come by the day before. The day before had been such an extremely efficient day that indeed the team only found a couple of families left, waiting for their chance to see the doctors.
Before the doctors set up the machines, Dr. Tamir wanted to check up on the little baby boy that was supposed to travel with them in the afternoon to Israel. Luckily they found the little boy in a stable condition, and when the doctors agreed on which medical supplies were necessary on the flight they headed back to the clinic, and Sarah organized the practical side of taking this baby to Israel. In the afternoon, the team finished up the last echo of the mission, and did a round trough the hospital to say goodbye to everyone.
The Zanzibarian team presented the SACH team with gifts from Zanzibar, and everyone agreed that this medical mission was a huge success in every way. Not only did the SACH team perform 237 echo’s which will help save the lives of many children, but they also witnessed the improvements in the hospital, and worked together with the ambitious local doctors who are eager to learn and improve the health care in Zanzibar. This reassurance that the team has such strong support from the local authorities, paired with the number of echo’s performed over the past few days, proved that this mission was an overall success.
We would like to thank GE Israel for kindly donating a portable echo machine used extensively during the mission. We would also like to thank Brussels Airlines for their continuous support during medical missions and bringing children to Israel.