Educational Outreach Program

Dr. Schwarzenberger travels with the UCLA Cardiac Surgery Perioperative Team to El Salvador with Hearts with Hope

This past July, members of the UCLA Cardiac Surgery perioperative team joined Dr. Juan Alejos’ Hearts with Hope Foundation, in collaboration with Gift of Life International and Mending Kids International, to journey to Hospital Nacional de Niño’s Benjamin Bloom in San Salvador, El Salvador. The focus of our mission concentrated on Tetralogy of Fallot (TOF), but did include other congenital cardiac anomalies.  We were fortunate enough to be able to perform 7 surgeries and 27 transthoracic echocardiograms during the trip. These were complex repairs that, in addition to tetralogy of Fallot, included total anomalous pulmonary veins, coarctation of the aorta, double-outlet right ventricle, subaortic stenosis, and pulmonary valve reconstruction, among others. The patients ranged in age from 2 months to 18 years, and in weight from 3.4 – 40 kg. Themission’s surgical team was led by Dr. Hillel Laks. Dr. Johanna Schwarzenberger was our anesthesiologist.  Extensive training of the local physicians, nurses and medical staff was essential to our success and our goal to build and sustain Bloom Hospital as key children’s hospital for all of Central America. We worked very closely with Bloom Hospital chief of cardiac surgery, Dr. Francisco Gamero and the chief of pediatric cardiology, Dr. Mauricio Leon, on a daily basis.

This was definitely a team effort. We could not have accomplished what we had if we were not blessed with the staff of 4 extremely talented UCLA critical care nurses in Denise Brown, Leah Wagner, Jeanine Vaughn and Gladys Casillas. Two highly skilled UCLA OR scrub technicians, Sandy White and Paul Chamnong, duplicated the UCLA way down to Dr. Laks’ mirror for scrubbing and his IPOD speakers. Our 2 UCLA perfusionists, Josh Resnik and Kim Delacruz, mastered old perfusion pumps, mixed cardioplegia solution on the fly, and at one point mocked a VAD (ventricular assist device) / ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenator) circuit for standby. We could have not done it without the talents from our coordinator Andrea Broddicker and translators Fernando Mendoza and Rafael.

We were also fortunate to have with us UCLA pediatric intensive care expert, Dr. Robert Kelly, and skilled pediatric cardiologist, Dr. Jeffery Frazer, from Rady Childrens Hospital, San Diego. Dr. Eva Hogan, our volunteer dental consultant, was also amazing in her short time with us, helping to diagnose patients’ dental conditions and getting them cleared for surgery.

Our UCLA Anesthesiologist, Dr. Schwarzenberger, had her hands full with these patients, as she was our only anesthesiologist running 2 rooms. She was able to adapt quickly and was generous in teaching the Salvadoran medical staff techniques for line placement, and in teaching the most modern physiological management to ensure immediate extubation in OR for accelerated recovery when appropriate. Additionally, she was equally impressive with her generosity and empathy to the mothers of these patients, communicating with them on their children’s conditions and extending herself beyond measure to ensure they understood the diseases. She did leave an impression on these women, as they continue to communicate with her weekly to update her on their children and expressed their gratitude.

Dr. Laks was our fearless and generous leader.; He showed great humility, commitment and strength.  His dedication and drive to treat these children and share his expertise with the staff was infectious. Dr. Laks communicated such a great appreciation for all our efforts, and was so inspiring and grateful to the entire team for our commitment to these children. He showed such humanity in his spirit toward the focus of the mission and to all involved.

We had very limited resources and worked tirelessly for 12-18 hrs a day.  Everyone showed resilience, innovation and an insightful work ethic as we all found a way to make it work. The commitment of Hearts for Hope is 5 years to Hospital Nacional de Niño’s Benjamin Bloom, in conjunction with Gift of Life International. The goal is to build their congenital heart disease treatment program and enable them to sustain a hospital that is able to treat their patient population for years to come. I was extremely grateful and honored to have shared this experience with such a remarkable group of people. It is something that I will always treasure and look forward to returning every year.

Photos from the trip