GW cardiologists never bypass an opportunity to help patients in need, even if it means travelling thousands of miles.
Since 2010, Dr. Cynthia Tracy, Dr. Marco Mercader, and electrophysiologists from the GW Heart & Vascular Institute have travelled to Comayagua, Honduras, to bring essential cardiac care to people in need. During this annual trip, the GW team partners with Honduran-based physicians to provide free, specialized cardiovascular care, which includes implanting pacemakers and defibrillators. These life-saving devices are available on a very limited basis in Honduras and, even then, are often given to patients who provide the highest cash bid.
For most patients, including Carolina Tabora, this means specialized devices are out of reach. “I could never afford a pacemaker,” explains Tabora. “If it wasn’t for the medical team, I don’t know what would have happened to me.”
Although dozens of medical missions to Honduras take place each year, the GW Heart & Vascular Institute’s trip is the only one dedicated to assist patients with life-threatening heart rhythm problems.
“There is no question about how critical the need is for this type of treatment and care,” said Dr. Tracy, professor of medicine at GW’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences and the GW Hospital’s director of electrophysiology and associate director of cardiology. “Many of these people would die if we weren’t doing these medical missions.”
The GW Heart & Vascular Institute’s medical mission trips are made possible by the support of Institute donors and the donation of equipment, medication, and devices from the medical device industry.
In 2014, the Institute received over $15,000 from individuals and in-kind contributions worth more than $500,000, enabling Dr. Tracy and her team to evaluate more than 100 patients and implant 36 devices. The funding also enabled GW physicians to provide follow-up care and device checkups for many patients who received devices during previous missions, an important part of cardiac care.
“In the United States, if you have a defibrillator implanted you are seen by a doctor for follow-up care every three months,” said Dr. Tracy. “The Hondurans we treat have to wait until we return to receive follow-up care.”
In 2013, the Institute provided medical education to two Honduran physicians, transporting them to George Washington University for intensive training on monitoring patients who have pacemakers and defibrillations. The Institute’s goal is to create a sustainable cardiac clinic for the underserved people in Honduras.
And thanks to the generosity of GW donors, Tracy and her team have continued to make the trip and expand the program year after year.
“Public hospitals in Honduras are aware that we are coming each year and save up cases for us to implant when we arrive,” said Tracy. During the Institute’s two-week cardiac clinic in 2014, the GW medical team implants more heart devices than are implanted during the rest of the year in Honduras.
Medical missions like this have a far broader impact than just the immediate patients served; there is a tremendous ripple effect on the patients, their families, and the community as a whole.
“I wait and wait for this opportunity,” says patient Geraldo Gutierrez of his medical procedure. “This changed my life.”
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