News

Rochester General, Hope for Haiti Foundation partner to provide life-saving surgery

It takes a village to raise a child, but what does it take to save that child’s life when they have a heart defect? Dedication.

It was on HFHF’s medical trip in January 2009 that we first met Denise. In a community where retrieving drinking water requires a one-mile uphill trek, her shortness of breath was of great concern. Denise was having to stop at least 6 times between the river and her house. Seventeen at the time, Denise received a cardiogram from Dr. Gerry Gacioch, HFHF’s volunteer cardiologist, using a battery powered EKG machine. Dr. G diagnosed Denise with severe mitral stenosis, a heart valve condition that, unless repaired, can be fatal. It is believed that the condition was caused by Rheumatic Fever she battled as a child. The mitral stenosis has caused the leaflets on her mitral valve to fuse together, preventing the flow of blood from the atrium to the ventricle. Any type of strain, such as running, or childbirth, could be too much for Denise’s heart.

With no surgical capabilities available in Bainet, and with no financial means to afford the costly surgery, Denise’s future looked bleak. But for a handful of Hope for Haiti Foundation volunteers, this was not the end of the story. The team rallied to find another way to save Denise’s life. Dr. G, head of cardiology at Rochester General Hospital in New York, presented Denise’s case to his colleagues, and Rochester General Health System agreed to do the surgery at no charge, in collaboration with a local non-profit partner, Intervol. Then began the arduous process of completing all the necessary paperwork to bring Denise to the U.S. Over 10 months, the team waded through hiccup after hiccup, not the least of which was having to provide a street address for a woman who lives miles from any named street. Yet, the determination of each volunteer was not waived. Neither was the dedication of HFHF’s Haitian medical staff, who closely monitored Denise’s case with regular check-ups at HFHF’s rural clinic in Zorangé.

Now 20, Denise has completed the first leg of her journey. She arrived in Rochester yesterday, and is scheduled for bypass surgery on Thursday, July 7 at 5:00 am. All indications suggest her heart valve can be “repaired” as opposed to “replaced.” This means that the valve can last as long as 20 years, rather than having to be replaced again in seven years time. After the surgery, she will be able to walk and breathe normally without difficulty.

Please keep Denise, her family, and the doctors in your prayers. She will stay in the US until July 22, when she will fly back to Haiti with a healthy heart. Pray for Denise’s family, who are undoubtedly experiencing a whirlwind of worry, anxiety, anticipation, and hope as their child travels to a foreign land. Also pray that Denise will transition well into the challenges of American food, hospitals, media attention, and a culture that speaks a different language.
It is only through the dedication of volunteers and supporters like you that this work is happening. And we are blown away by your dedication to make impossible things, like Denise’s surgery, happen.

We are honored to work with outstanding people like Dr. G and Denise. Your courage and humility inspire us. Dr. G, thank you for being a part of HFHF, and facilitating this surgery. Many people in Rochester, NY have committed money, food, and housing — we are grateful; Denise is grateful. HFHF — and opportunities like this — exist only because people like you choose to commit to this cause. Thank you.