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What Matters Isn’t What We Bring, It’s What We Leave Behind

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Special to the Philanthropy Journal

By Charles-Edouard Catherine

More than one million children around the world are born with congenital heart conditions every year. In the U.S., these conditions are highly treatable with access to some of the best healthcare, doctors, and hospitals in the world. Yet in developing nations like Costa Rica, Nicaragua or Peru, heart-related complications are a leading cause of child mortality. Each day, hundreds of children in these countries are facing treatable congenital heart conditions because the health system in their country is ill-equipped to support their needs. Surgeons of Hope aims to combat this issue, so no child dies from a treatable heart condition. 

The Surgeons of Hope Foundation is a New York City based nonprofit established in 2001. We strive to provide every infant and child with a damaged heart an equal opportunity to receive life-saving surgery. It is an unconscionable loss that a child dies from a heart defect when a child living in the most remote area of the U.S. or Europe with the same condition could be easily cured. Surgeons of Hope seeks to narrow that disparity. Beyond addressing the present need of life-saving surgery, Surgeons of Hopes equips these nations to address this congenital heart conditions in the future.

Our motto is “It’s not what we bring. It’s what we leave behind.” Given the complexity of pediatric heart disease, successful treatment depends on advanced medical facilities and highly-trained medical professionals. We bring the teams and tools necessary to conduct these complex surgeries and leave behind sustainable solutions – medical training for local staff, state-of-the-art equipment, and healthcare centers that equip these remote places to perform the surgeries independently in the future.

Surgeons of Hope sponsors volunteer surgical teams to travel to developing countries and operate on children, supplying the local hospital as needed.  While there, Surgeons of Hope volunteers collaborate with the local team. Together, they complete life-saving procedures and teach medical teams to complete surgeries after Surgeons of Hope volunteers leave the country. 

Our program in Nicaragua, which started in 2008, is an illustration of our model’s success. When Surgeons of Hope began work in Nicaragua, La Mascota Children’s Hospital lacked many essential surgical resources. Much of the equipment was outdated or nonfunctional, including broken sterilization and echocardiograph machines. There was no catheterization laboratory and supplies were extremely limited. Adequate cardiac centers only existed in Costa Rica and Guatemala. In order to treat children with heart defects in this region of Central America, advanced medical training and the construction of a modern medical facility was essential. In 2013, we opened a new Heart Center and each year, the number of local surgeries and the level of difficulty of those surgeries continue to increase. In 2014 we conducted 75 surgeries, 119 in 2015, 172 in 2016, and close to 200 so far this year. 

One of these surgeries benefitted Maria Jose (pictured left), an 8-year-old girl from El Tortuguero, a little town 300 miles away from Managua. Getting Maria to the Pediatric Heart Center where surgery would be possible required a rigorous 10-hour trek. A history of rheumatic heart disease left her with a severe aortic stenosis and left ventricular hypertrophy, making the surgery even more complex. However, in 2014, Maria received treatment that saved her life, and one month later, she made a full recovery.

Beyond helping children such as Maria Jose, Surgeons of Hope has equipped Nicaraguan doctors to address this issue. Dr. Téllez and Dr. Narváez, Nicaraguan surgeons trained by our teams, successfully and autonomously performed a Glenn procedure in Managua for the first time in November 2017.

As Surgeons of Hope looks to our future of sustainable service, we are motivated by our achievements in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Peru and look forward to maintaining these programs. In these countries, we brought life-saving treatment and training and we are leaving behind autonomous centers and professionals that will carry on the much-needed service. Beginning in 2018, we are planning to initiate programs that have a similar impact in both Panama and Paraguay. Together, we are going to save many more lives.


Charles-Edouard Catherine has served as Executive Director of Surgeons of Hope since January 2014. His main responsibilities are to participate with the Board of Directors in developing a vision and strategic plan to guide the organization, which includes identifying, assessing, and informing the Board of Directors of internal and external issues that affect the organization. Charles’ professional expertise, his Masters in Political Science from Sciences Po Bordeaux, France, and his fluency in 4 languages has made him a key member in spreading the mission of Surgeons of Hope.

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