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Spotlight: Healing little hearts around the world

Thursday, February 20, 2020
Surgeons in La Paz, Bolivia

This week's Spotlight shines on a team from Duke University Hospital that recently traveled to La Paz, Bolivia on a medical mission trip. The group included Dr. Andrew Lodge, pediatric heart surgeon; Michelle Figuerres, OR nurse; Rachel Gambino, perfusionist and Christopher Lappe, respiratory therapist.

The team traveled to the Hospital del Nino in La Paz under the sponsorship of Gift of Life International to provide heart defect surgery to underprivileged children who otherwise would not receive this type of care. In just five days, they performed life-saving heart surgery on ten pediatric patients.

Upon their return, Dr. Lodge shared the following about his team members with their respective leadership within Duke Heart:

Rachel Gambino, perfusionist: “First, it was an absolute pleasure to work with her. Second, her preparation for the mission was meticulous. She looked into every conceivable detail before we left and spent weeks salvaging tubing that would have been otherwise discarded to bring with her to construct circuits and/or donate to the hospital there. Third, on site she was extremely conscientious in her preparation for each case and worked seamlessly with the local perfusionist there (who was also excellent). Rachel shared much of her knowledge and practice with Valeria, her Bolivian counterpart, but did so in a constructive and educational manner, never making the local staff feel inadequate or substandard in any way. She was able to troubleshoot any problems that arose, including adapting to the high altitude physiology that we encountered. (La Paz is at about 12,000 feet above sea level).

Chris Lappe, respiratory therapist:  “From the first day, he made an immediate impact on the care of the patients in  the ICU. Not only did he help to take care of the patients that underwent surgery as part of the mission, but he also participated in the care of all of the other patients in the unit. Two notable examples were his involvement with a chronically ventilated patient who underwent heart surgery in October of last year and a patient who had repair of a tracheo-esophageal fistula some weeks ago. This latter infant has had problems with right lung collapse and the surgical team was contemplating pneumonectomy. Within hours of Chris’ involvement with the patient, the lung was re-expanded. He worked tirelessly throughout the mission, frequently putting in 14 hour days, and worked seamlessly with the local staff and the rest of our team.”

Michelle Figuerres, OR nurse: “Michelle has accompanied our team on previous mission trips to the Philippines. To her credit and as an indicator of her level of performance on these prior missions, she was requested by name by the sponsoring organization for this trip. She spent weeks ahead of time gathering supplies and helped me tremendously by keeping a detailed inventory for us and for the sponsor. Her performance in the OR was excellent as usual. She also worked closely with the local operating room staff. She had a big impact on their practice there, helping them to learn how to set up for a case quickly and efficiently to the point that they now will be comfortable using one scrub nurse instead of two for cardiac cases.”

Our congenital heart surgery team is incredibly gifted. Thank you for all that you do to make Duke Heart one of the premiere programs in the country and for sharing your gifts with those who would not otherwise receive this type of care.