Sixteen heart patients operated on at King Faisal Hospital Kigali


(L-R) Sara Pitmann from Team Heart (L) and and Patton-Bolman walk patients Esperance Mukakizima from Musanze (2ndL) and Marie Aimee Tuyishime from Nyaruguru after their heart surgeries at King Faisal Hospital. (Timothy Kisambira)

A total of 16 people with rheumatic heart disease have undergone surgery at King Faisal Hospital Kigali during ongoing medical mission by Team Heart, a group of US-based nurses and surgeons.

The medics offer cardiac surgery working in partnership with Rwanda’s Ministry of Health, and Rwanda Heart Foundation.

Marie Aimee, a 12-year-old beneficiary of the medical mission, expressed her happiness after a long time of illness.

“Prior to the operation, even the simplest of physical activities left me lost for breath. I couldn’t sleep or eat. I was operated on last week and already I can eat and walk around a bit. I feel so much better and my feet don’t swell anymore,” she said.

Aimed at building a sustainable cardiac surgery to address the burden of heart disease, the team this time round is concluding its ninth cardiac surgery visit to Rwanda.

This year’s month-long medical mission started on February 14.

Jean Paul Iyamuremye, a former patient of rheumatic heart disease, who underwent surgery in 2008 by the same team, said it was amazing having had the chance to meet such specialised doctors.

“I was operated on in 2008; that time my whole life was down that I couldn’t do anything by myself. However, after Team Heart’s medical mission in the same year, I recovered gradually and now I am physically capable of looking after myself,” he said.

“I am now an ambassador for the Team Heart simply because as a survivor I am better placed to sensitise the people about heart disease.”

Speaking at a news briefing at King Faisal Hospital, yesterday, Dr Everest Ntaganda, the head of non-communicable disease division at Rwanda Biomedical Centre, highlighted some of the signs and symptoms of heart disease.

These include shortness of breath after simple physical effort, swelling of feet and retarded growth among children among others.

He called on people to always visit hospitals earlier if they show such signs.

The team has been traveling to Rwanda to perform screenings, heart operations and workshops with local Rwandan medical staff over the last nine years.

Ceeya Patton-Bolman, the co-founder and director for Team Heart, described the trip as successful.

“It’s been a life saving trip. A week ago, these young women and men were almost dying; they were all in critical conditions. But now life goes, and this is why we are so grateful,” she said.

Over the past nine years, Team Heart, with its partners, has been able to operate close to 100 people with rheumatic heart disease and is planning to establish a cardiac care centre in Rwanda.

With the team’s main pillars being prevention, intervention, and education, they have already started training cardiovascular doctors and nurses who will be able to work with heart patients once the Masaka Cardiac Care Centre facility starts operation.

Dr Ntaganda welcomed the planned facility, noting that the establishment of a one-stop centre for heart patients would help decrease the spending.

“We currently train our local doctors and nurses to create a pool of cardiologic specialists. Setting up such a facility will enhance the opportunity for local and regional heart patients to access affordable quality medical care from qualified local medical personnel,” he said.

Today, the nearest country that offers the kind of service is Kenya, but expensively since the charges range from $20,000 (about Rwf13.5 million) and $30,000 (about Rwf20 million).

Among the cheapest places to go to for the surgery is India at $10,000.