In Nigeria, there is a large disparity between the burden of heart disease and the medical resources available. As 44% of admissions to major Nigerian teaching hospitals have been reported to be due to heart failure, the situation is clearly dire. It is exacerbated by a rising incidence of certain heart diseases, such as ischemic heart disease.
Unfortunately, open heart surgery (OHS) is not commonly performed in Nigeria for various reasons, and most patients who require OHS are referred abroad, despite the high prevalence of heart disease.
In 2013, Dr. David Mishali, Director of the Edmond J. Safra International Congenital Heart Center at Sheba, led a first-of-its-kind mission to Nigeria aimed at correcting heart defects of Nigerian children, one of the leading causes of childhood mortality in the region. Recognizing the pressing need, a second mission was soon dispatched to Nigeria.
On his third visit to Nigeria, Dr. Mishali traveled with a team of Sheba experts to treat seven children in need of urgent heart surgery. However, when they met the brother of one of the scheduled patients, an eighth emergency surgery was quickly added to the schedule.
11-year-old Fuaz had joined his parents on a 500 km trip to accompany his little brother, Fuad, for a scheduled heart surgery. Noticing that Fuaz appeared unwell, the Sheba team examined him and found that he was suffering from a fatal congenital heart defect. In an effort to save his life, the team overturned their busy schedules to perform urgent surgery. The crucial intervention saved the two brothers, who would likely have lived for only a few more days. In addition to Fuaz and Fuad’s successful surgeries, the team operated on six more young patients before heading home.
“We are bringing the world’s most advanced medicine to a place where the level of life is the most primitive one could imagine,” explained Dr. Mishali. “With each trip, we can see considerable progress. It is impossible to describe in words what this incredible mission means for us or Nigerians who need our help.”
Since then, Sheba’s Pediatric Cardiac Surgery Department has been running an ongoing project to treat congenital heart defects in Nigeria. Sheba teams, including surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, and medical technicians, have been on multiple visits to Nigeria, performing various surgical procedures while also training local medical professionals. Moreover, Nigerian teams continuously visit Sheba for training, and can now perform many surgical procedures without further assistance.
At Sheba, we feel privileged to have been able to help and create a real impact on Nigerian lives, upholding our credo by providing hope without boundaries.