Two Programs, Many Hearts

They’re working together to fight congenital heart defects in kids
BY: PHIL GOODE

Since it was established 15 years ago, the Los Cabos Children’s Foundation has invested $15 million USD in local programs that help improve children’s quality of life, with a focus on health. But unlike most other non-profits, which raise money for their own programs, the LCCF uses the donations it gets to support and strengthen other community programs. The LCCF recently announced its 26 grantees for 2017-18, and over the next year the Gringo Gazette will be featuring each organization and the work they do. In this issue, we are profiling the pediatric cardiology program at the Salvatierra Hospital in La Paz, and its companion organization, Abriendo Corazones.

Here’s a sobering fact for you: Congenital heart defects are the second-leading cause of death for children under the age of one in Baja California Sur. What makes this statistic sadder is the fact that many of these deaths could be prevented, if only these children had access to hospitals and doctors that could diagnose and treat their conditions, but the government doesn’t even acknowledge these conditions with any programs. There simply are none in Los Cabo, and the children are sent home to die.

But, the LCCF created two programs; the pediatric cardiology program at the Salvatierra Hospital in La Paz and the Abriendo Corazones (Opening Hearts) program. These two programs, which comprise the LCCF’s Spirit of Love campaign, will get 29% of LCCF’s funds for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

The pediatric cardiology program at the Salvatierra Hospital started in 2013 with the goal of providing long term care to children in BCS who have congenital heart defects. They have provided more than 1,400 cardiology services to kids. The bulk (more than 1100) of these services are evaluations, but the program has also performed 114 life-saving surgeries.

Nearly a decade before the pediatric cardiology program was started, the hospital partnered with the Omaha Children's Hospital and Medical Center, and children who needed life-saving heart surgeries would be flown to Omaha to be operated on by Dr. Jim Hammel, one of the leading pediatric heart surgeons in the state. For several years, the LCCF would fund trips for one or two children to be flown to Omaha for surgery.

Dr. Hammel realized that he could help a lot more kids if he and his team traveled to La Paz for surgeries. And in a couple of heart breaking cases children died while waiting for visas. The same year the pediatric cardiology program at Salvatierra started, Dr. Hammel and his team started flying down to La Paz twice a year to perform multiple surgeries, operating on almost 70 children in just a few years. Before Dr. Hammel started making those trips, there had never been a pediatric cardiac surgeon performed in BCS.

They Omaha team also began training the doctors and nurses at Salvatierra with the ultimate goal of them being able to perform the surgeries themselves. Now, the Salvatierra staff (consisting of eight medical specialists and 18 nurses) is able to diagnose and treat children with heart conditions year round, and have done 14 surgeries on their own.

Involved in all of this is Abriendo Corazones, which coordinates the surgical trips that bring Dr. Hammel and his team to Salvatierra, as well as the training of the pediatric cardiology team. LCCF supports Abriendo Corazones with funds to cover operating expenses and the training. Before the Abriendo Croazones program was started, there was no pediatric cardiac program in BCS. Families with children who were born with heart defects had to either come up with the money to travel to the mainland for diagnosis and treatment themselves, or they were simply unable to give their children the life-saving care they needed.

Another major way the LCCF has helped the Salvatierra’s pediatric cardiology program is by providing supplies and equipment to get the program established and up and running. They had to do all this before the program could get accredited and get funds from the government. The unit just got their accreditation this year, so it will now get funds from the federal government. Now that the hospital has received accreditation, the LCCF will continue to support the pediatric cardiology program. But because the program is now getting federal funds, the LCCF is able to allocate money that had previously gone to the hospital to other programs that are still working to get established.

To learn more about Salvatierra’s pediatric cardiology program and Abriendo Corazones, and LCCF’s Spirit Of Love program, visit www.loscaboschildren.org/programs/spirit-of-love.