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Healing Hearts on a Global Scale

Dr. Simon Abraham recently performed his 100th and 101st international heart surgeries at Peyton Manning Children Hospital at St.Vincent.

Healing Hearts on a Global Scale
February 2013

The Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St.Vincent mission states: "We commit ourselves to all persons, with special attention to the poor and vulnerable."

It's a pledge the hospital takes seriously. Just ask Dr. Simon Abraham, who for the past 12 years has donated his services to a Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St.Vincent program that provides life-saving heart surgery to children from places such as Bosnia, Kosovo, Mongolia, Honduras and Haiti.

While all children served by the program are special, its two most recent patients—two 1-year-olds from Mongolia—enjoy the extra-special distinction of being the 100th and 101st children to receive surgery through the program.

Half a World Away

When Altanshagai Namsrai, a boy, and Undarmaa Altangerel, a girl, arrived in Indianapolis last October, they were sick and scared. Both children suffered from ventricular septal defect, a congenital heart disease that results in a hole in the heart. Without surgery, the toddlers would be lucky to live into their late 20s.

Ventricular septal defect is highly treatable in children lucky enough to be born in countries with modern healthcare systems. But that wasn't the case for Altanshagai and Undarmaa.

"If you live somewhere like Mongolia, Haiti or Kosovo, you are going to be hard-pressed to find a cardiac surgeon who can perform the operation," said Sara Bodenmiller, NP, the program's coordinator. "There are just no options for these families."

But by working in conjunction with Samaritan's Purse, who pairs top-quality hospitals with children in impoverished countries, Peyton Manning Children Hospital at St.Vincent has been able to give 101 children with congenital heart defects a chance at a healthy life.

"Without this surgery, these children won't only have shortened life spans, but they won't be able to participate at school or keep up with their friends," said Dr. Ginnie Abarbanell, a pediatric cardiologist who helps identify international candidates for the surgery. "They'll have all kinds of limitations."

Thanks to people like Dr. Abarbanell, Nurse Practitioner Bodenmiller—and, of course, Dr. Abraham—little Altanshagai and Undarmaa will be normal, healthy children with as good a chance as anyone at a long life.

A special achievement

The families of the children must withstand a long flight and a much-longer stay away from home to get their children to Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St.Vincent. But it's a small price to pay for the well-being of their little ones.

"I never imagined open heart surgery could be this easy," Altantsetseg Lkhagvadorj, Undarmaa's aunt, said through a translator. "I would like to tell Dr. Abraham and all of the other doctors and nurses who have given new life to my niece 'thank you.' I can't express my thankfulness."

When Dr. Abraham was recognized for having completed his 101st surgery—which is more than any other surgeon in the U.S. who has participated in the Samaritan's Purse program—he was quick to downplay his part in the process. "I am happy to play a small role to improve the quality of life for the children and peace of mind of their families," he said.

Dr. Abraham's humility notwithstanding, the families of those he has helped will always regard him as a hero. "She will always remember him," said Altantsetseg, the aunt of Undarmaa, who will celebrate her second birthday in April as a healthy child with a bright future ahead of her. "When she is older, I will be sure to tell her of how he saved her life."

Tags: Health, In This Issue, Pediatric Health

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