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Heart Heros

Today we spotlight two Team Heart Heroes, Sue Gabriel and Kevin McWha, both ICU RNs who have poured countless hours in our fight to end rheumatic heart disease and bring sustainable cardiac care to Rwanda. These two capture the essence of what volunteers mean to the organization and the importance of nursing as a key component of our success. They both represent our nursing community so perfectly; with expertise, compassion, skill transfer and a commitment to sustainability.

Kevin and Sue have been volunteers since Team Heart’s first year. We are thankful for their continued enthusiasm and devotion. They’ve touched the lives of so many. Kevin is the most generous person you will ever meet! He is known to give others the shirt off his back – literally. He is loved by the patients, and by our Rwandan colleagues who he works with year, after year, after year. He calls for us not to lose sight of those in need, especially in these trying times and reminds us to be kind to all.

Susan’s commitment to the education and support of our Rwandan colleagues is so admirable. Dedicated to sharing her knowledge and expertise to help Rwanda achieve a sustainable program, Susan put her beliefs into action – everyone should have a right to medical treatment, especially the least fortunate who have so much to offer if given a chance to live. We are one World, including Africa.

They both have joined the Pumping Heart Challenge!  Kevin will be walking seven miles along the beach with his family, where Sue plans to bike 10 miles a day! Please join them today to help fight rheumatic heart disease and bring sustainable cardiac care to Rwanda!

What attracted you to the cause and Team Heart in particular?

KM: From the homeless shelter in my home town to the AIDS Action Committee in Boston, I have always volunteered. I wanted to do more for the World and while working in the ICU, I heard about the first Team Heart mission to Rwanda. It fit the bill! I was excited to bring my knowledge and skills to the people of Rwanda.

SG: Team Heart offered an opportunity for me to help others in an adventurous way. I wanted to use my skills to teach others who are less fortunate.


What are your activities and what do they involve?

SG: I am an RN in the ICU. I teach my Rwandan colleagues to care for post-op cardiac surgery patients. I love to teach and watch other nurses get the “ah-ha” moment.


What motivates you to stay involved?

KM: Since the beginning, I have fallen in love with Rwanda and its people. I want to see and nurture our Mission.

SG: I love the people who I work with involved with Team Heart: the team, the Rwandan nurses I teach, and most of all, the patients who I care for both past and current.


In your opinion, what is the most important work Team Heart does?

KM: Education, training, continued support of past patients and bringing an empathetic representation of our country to Rwanda’s people.

SG: Education and networking for a sustainable cardiac surgery program, including the prevention and treatment of Rheumatic Heart disease.


What do you hope Team Heart will achieve in the near future? In the long term?

KM:  Long term would be the opening of a full-service Cardiac Care Center.

SG: I hope Team Heart can continue its footprint in the education of the medical staff at King Faisal Hospital. We can do some of this remotely during COVID-19 with internet access and partnership with the University of Rwanda. In the long term, I hope we can watch the Rwandan’s grow their heart care program in the interventional, surgical, and prevention arenas.


What is a stand-out memory from your time with Team Heart?

KM: There are so many stories to tell. My most dear is having the opportunity to care for a very sick lad. He was brought to Boston by generous and loving folks. I had the honor to care for him immediately post-op. He smiled at me after I removed the breathing tube. He knew he was safe. His first words to me of course was “amazi”!! (water). Through the years, he got stronger and healthier. That young man is now a Doctor in Kigali. Knowing that I was a small part in helping him to live and grow really is the antithesis of why I love Team Heart. ❤️

SG: In the early days, 2008-2009, of heart surgery in Rwanda, King Faisal did not have a blood bank. We had a patient come out of surgery bleeding. His name was Jean De Deau. All of us, surgeons, ICU nurses, including the Rwandan helpers, worked tirelessly to save this man. We made trips across town to the Red Cross for blood. Everyone did their part, especially my colleague Barbara Williams who worked the entire night to stabilize this man’s life. Jean De Deau made it and thrived. He became a teacher and now has a wife and children. This man, who is a productive citizen of Rwanda, would not be alive if it wasn’t for the gallant efforts of all those who worked so hard to save him. We have made so many advances since the early days (there is a blood bank at the hospital) but this one stands out in my mind as a great Team Heart save.