“This was my first trip with Team Heart to Rwanda. I didn’t know what to expect but I was excited to see the impact of cardiac sonography outside of my little bubble of Portland, Maine.
When my team landed, we went to work straight away, screening patients to be surgical candidates. At home, when looking at patient hearts, I’m investigating, deducing, searching, over and over, to correctly explain the issue at hand. It often takes an hour to thoroughly show the heart. In Rwanda, this process was shockingly short. The moment I put the echo probe down on a patient’s chest, the issue was obvious; torrential mitral regurgitation, along with tricuspid regurgitation, massively dilated chambers, skyrocketing pressures. A 90 year old heart in a 19 year old man.
We screened dozens of patients, each with hearts so sick, the echo process simply narrowed down to “Surgery or no surgery,” as the patients’ fragile bodies and complex illnesses might not even allow them to survive a valve repair or replacement. The most difficult part was knowing what I was looking at, the alarming need for intervention, but having to say goodbye at the end of the visit, understanding that there was no help available because the heart disease was too far along. In many cases, had an echo happened just a few years earlier, a person could have been spared.
This was a really important trip for me. Rwanda gave me more than I had to give. Early intervention, with a simple heart scan, is so imperative. I didn’t know the power of cardiac sonography until I traveled with Team Heart. I hope this mission continues to grow so that 19 year old hearts can live long, happy lives, instead of counting down years of suffering.”
Joanna Strycharz, Cardiac Sonographer, Nov 2022.