On the Ground in Paraguay

ASUNCION, PARAGUAY  Heart to Heart's lead surgeon, Nilas Young, talks to Adolfo G. about his upcoming open heart surgery. On April 8, 2019, the joint Heart to Heart-Paraguayan team successfully implanted the donated valves through open heart surgery. Adolfo's surgery was Heart to Heart’s first surgical case in the country of Paraguay. Adolfo was discharged from the ICU two days later.

ASUNCION, PARAGUAY Heart to Heart's lead surgeon, Nilas Young, talks to Adolfo G. about his upcoming open heart surgery. On April 8, 2019, the joint Heart to Heart-Paraguayan team successfully implanted the donated valves through open heart surgery. Adolfo's surgery was Heart to Heart’s first surgical case in the country of Paraguay. Adolfo was discharged from the ICU two days later.

A Miracle for Adolfo

A Heart to Heart team consisting of 11 specialists has been in the heart of South America for one week, on our first-ever surgical-educational mission in Paraguay. Our focus on this trip is training cardiac specialists to treat adults with valvular heart disease at a national hospital located in Asuncion. The joint team is being led by Heart to Heart founder & medical director Dr. Nilas Young (UC Davis Medical Center) and cardiac specialists Dr. Sergio Cabral and Dr. Adrian Ebner (National Hospital in Asuncion). As of today, the joint team has screened close to 50 patients and performed open heart surgery on four, replacing a total of six valves – three mitral and three aortic – so far.

Adolfo and Sandra live in the center of Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay, in a neighborhood called Obrero. Adolfo has lived in the capital his whole life. He has four grown children and one grandchild. He proudly tells us about each one of them.

Adolfo and Sandra live in the center of Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay, in a neighborhood called Obrero. Adolfo has lived in the capital his whole life. He has four grown children and one grandchild. He proudly tells us about each one of them.

Our first surgical patient was Adolfo G. He is warm and outgoing, and his English is fluent enough that he is comfortable communicating directly with Dr. Young to discuss his heart condition and the recommended valve replacement. He shares his personal story as Sandra, his wife, sits close by – clearly very worried about him. It is evident how close the two of them are, their love for each other is palpable to all in the room. Naturally, Sandra is pleased that Adolfo will receive the new valves he desperately needs, but she cannot help feeling fearful of losing him, even though she knows the surgery is low risk.

As a young man, Adolfo was informed that he had a heart murmur. But last year, a cardiologist let him know that his “little murmur” had become a “giant murmur” and referred him to one of Paraguay’s leading cardiac specialists, Dr. Ebner, for a diagnostic catheterization. Test results indicated that Adolfo's aortic and mitral valves were not functioning well, and needed to be replaced. Adolfo sings the praises of Dr. Ebner, who is known for his aid to the poor. Adolfo, speaking in English, tells us, “Dr. Ebner is a doctor for the people, not a doctor for money.”

As he learns about the advantages of the bioprosthetic valves to be implanted in his heart, Adolfo profoundly thanks us and says, “This is like a miracle for me.”

Paraguay is a relatively small country with a population of just under 7 million. The endemic rheumatic heart disease here can be correlated to the high poverty rate. Unfortunately, access to medical treatment for patients with valvular disease is extremely limited. Using our education-based program model, Heart to Heart is in a strong position to expand and advance cardiac care for patients in Paraguay in a sustainable manner.

Hannah Hunter