Press Release – RVH friends of Nigeria, Save a Heart Mission

Press Release – RVH friends of Nigeria, Save a Heart Mission March 2014
20 Volunteers from the Royal Victoria Hospital, friends of Nigeria, Save a Heart returned from a successful mission
on the 5th April 2014 after spending two weeks performing 12 open heart operations in Enugu State, Nigeria. The
Northern Ireland registered charity were on their second mission to offer heart surgery to the local community of
the Enugu University Teaching hospital which serves a population of over 20 million, twenty times the population
served by the team in Northern Ireland. The first mission from the Royal Victoria Hospital took place last year when
5 heart surgeries took place and many lessons were learnt which were put into place on this mission.
The team in March /April was made up of local and national surgeons including Mr Onyekwelu Nzewi, Consultant
Cardiac Surgeon at the Royal and the founder of the Save a heart mission), Ms Karen Booth, (Specialist Registrar in
Cardiothoracic Surgery at the Royal), Mr Ikenna Omeje (Consultant Paediatric Cardiac Surgeon at Great Ormond
Street Hospital), local anaesthetic doctors including Dr Bharathi Varadarjan (Consultant Cardiac Anaesthetist at the
Royal), Dr Graham McNeilly, Specialist Registrar in Anaesthetics, local Echocardiographer from 3fivetwo healthcare
Ms Laura Blair. The rest of the staff also work at the Royal and include, Ms Lisa Scullion (Deputy Cardiac Intensive
Care Sister), Ms Janet Mills (Advanced Care Practitioner), Ms Heather Steele (staff nurse), Miss Carole-Ann Ryan
(staff nurse), Ms Laura Postlewaite (staff nurse), Mr Connor McDowell (staff nurse), Ms Lynda Briggs (staff nurse),
Cardiology Specialist Registrar Dr Peter McKavanagh, , Physiotherapist Ms Julie Grant, Cardiac Perfusionist Ms Aisling
Brennan, Technician Ms Suzanne Farry, Mrs Karen James (Cardiac theatre sister) and Ms Tess Fundano (surgical
nurse practitioner).
Staff from the Royal Victoria Hospital Friends of Nigeria, Save a Heart Foundation on day 1 in Enugu University
Teaching Hospital
On arrival at Enugu Univeristy teaching hospital the team wasted no time in setting up a screening clinic seeing
between 30-50 patients and reviewing their symptoms and heart scans to decide upon suitability for surgery. The
mission work at the hospital runs roughly three times a year and is provided by the team from Northern Ireland as
well as a team from America and India who also fly in to operate and train the local staff how to perform the surgery.
The team in action, screening with echocardiography post-operatively(bottom right), in theatre operating (Mr Nzewi
and Ms Booth) and training local perfusionist on the bypass machine (Ms Aisling Brennan).
Many difficulties faced the team not least the severity of the pathology they faced. The patients mostly had
rheumatic heart disease which is uncommon in Northern Ireland as antibiotics are widely available but is a big
healthcare burden in Africa and the patient’s operated on had new mitral, aortic and tricuspid valves inserted for
this reason but they also operated on Chidimma Peter, a 6 year old girl born with Tetralogy of Fallot. A condition
which meant she was small for her age and was unable to exercise fully due to breathlessness. She was offered
corrective surgery along with Wisdom Ofia and Chidi Oluebube, a 9 and 12 year old little boy and girl respectively
who had two successful atrial septal defects closed during the mission. These are conditions which would ordinarily
be repaired at a younger age in Northern Ireland to allow the children to grow and develop at a normal rate and it
was difficult for the team to realise how much suffering is caused by untreated conditions which we do not
experience in the National Health Service and how many more people they would like to be able to help in Nigeria.
During the mission, the team also took to heart, Esther Mwokola a 52 year old lady in heart failure to due a benign
tumour of her heart which had grown so large it was in danger of obstructing her mitral valve and ending her life
prematurely. Along with Terhemba Nomhinange, a 62 gentleman with coronary artery disease at risk of dying from
a heart attack without intervention, who had the first ever triple bypass to be performed in Nigeria during the
mission. All patients are now at home, well recovered including Elder Paul Obin, a 74 year old grandfather who
suffered a stroke during his post-operative course and thanks to the work of the team was recovering movement in
his affected side and is on the road to a full recovery.
Difficulties faced included equipment failures, the change in culture, climate, working and living conditions and we
were relieved that we had no language barriers as all patients spoke English as a second language. Challenging also
was working with the local team, trying to raise standards of how they work in difficult conditions to ensure patients
had safe and successful operations. There is no doubt that 12 operations was a very good measure of two weeks of
hard work.
Fund raising is ongoing for future missions and if you would like to support this good work please visit our website at
The Royal Team on the last day at the hospital after a very succuessful mission.
Mr Nzewi, Mr Omeje, Ms Booth and the patients on the ward getting ready for home on the last day of the mission.
8 patient’s are photographed here with 4 missing as they were recently operated on and recovering in intensive