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Heart Doctors Help Children in the Yucatan

posted on February 12, 2007


For over 25 years, a group of compassionate Des Moines heart surgeons has been spreading the wealth, reaching out to a less fortunate area of the world to give children with heart problems a chance for a better life. This week 30 to 40 Mexican children and their parents can take heart when the Iowa team arrives once again.

Narrator: Since 1979, medical teams from Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines have made annual trips to the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. There they evaluate children, ranging in ages from newborn to sixteen, for heart disease, needed corrective heart surgery, and transplantation. This initiative, known as the Children's Lifeline Yucatan program, has touched hundreds of lives and hearts over the years.

Chandramouli: It's a very backward area, totally backward in the sense that there were no facilities available when we started the program. The nearest facility was Mexico City for them to go, and that was thousands and thousands of miles away. That's where you could see so many patients in Yucatan province or peninsula not getting the care appropriate.

Narrator: During each trip, the team spends a week examining 200 to 300 children referred to them by local physicians. From those they choose 30 to 40 children who, in the summer and fall, are flown from Mexico to Mercy Medical Center, or MMC, where they receive free surgery unavailable in their hometowns.

Becker: This is a group of people that have no insurance, and if you don't have money, you don't get very good healthcare down there. So these are people we're offering a lot of hope to, and you can see it in their eyes. And like I said, when we come back and their child is so healthy and happy and doing well, the outpouring of love and gratitude you get down there, that's what really makes it all worthwhile.

Narrator: The team members donate their time and fund their way on the trips. Since the mid 1980s, Variety Club of Iowa and Variety International have helped fund the program by donating equipment and an airline ticket for each patient and one parent. The program was founded by Dr. John Gay, a now-retired cardiologist. Gay donated his time and expertise working with the children, and successors like Doctors Chandramouli and Becker are following his example.

Becker: Mercy Hospital is the big donor here. They're providing all the operating room time, all the medications, all the nursing time, the Intensive Care Unit time, which with over 700 patients is in the tens of millions of dollars over the 28 to 29 years or so we've been doing this. So it's a tremendous effort on their part.

Narrator: Dr. Becker is leading the medical team on this year's trip to the Yucatan, which just left this past weekend. With Valentine's being on all of our minds, what better timing for a mission all about the heart.

Chandramouli: We have seen almost everybody going back home. We see some of them grownups sometimes come there and say hello to us. The smile that you see on these kids and their parents' faces when you go there, that's the rewarding thing you see.

Tags: health heart Iowa Mexico volunteers

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