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Gina Baffa, MD, and her husband Steve Caputo
Wilmington, DE — On October 21, a contingent from the Nemours Cardiac Center will leave for Peru on a two-week charitable mission that has become a tradition for some. Hearts With Hope, an organization founded by Dr. Juan Alejos of UCLA Medical Center, makes annual trips to Latin America, including El Salvador and Peru, to treat children with congenital heart disease. Going to Peru this month are pediatric cardiologist Gina Baffa, MD, and her husband Steve Caputo (second trip); Wilma Berends, director of nursing - cardiac (fifth trip); and Elaine Geary, Cardiac Intensive Care Unit nurse (first trip).
The destination is Arequipa, Peru’s second largest city next to Lima. Many residents of the area are poor and medically underserved. There, Hearts with Hope will provide exams, medical care and surgery for children with known or suspected heart problems. Dental care is also a significant part of the mission. All the work is performed by volunteers.
When they arrive, the group is typically greeted by a festive contingent of families, physicians, nurses and field workers. The next day, the waiting lines are long as health professionals begin to examine and triage children for procedures, including echocardiograms, cardiac catheterization and surgery. “I’m used to taking the time I need to do a very thorough echo,” said Dr. Baffa who, with her husband, is going to Peru for the second time. “But on my first day last year a colleague said to me, ‘You know, you only get about 10 minutes apiece to do these …’ So I sped it up and did the best I could to see as many kids as possible.”
“The set-up is very basic, and there is a lot of coordination needed to screen and triage,” said Wilma Berends, a five-time veteran of the mission and president of the Delaware Chapter of Hearts with Hope. “We work from early in the morning to quite late at night. Some children with complex needs are not candidates for what we offer in a field hospital setting,” she added, so they are referred for care elsewhere — many to UCLA. Nemours Cardiac Center Director Christian Pizarro, MD, introduced the mission to Nemours and has participated in the past, as has CICU nurse Gail Gallagher. In addition to direct care, a primary goal of Hearts with Hope is to teach and mentor local providers in Peru so that they are able to care for these children in the future.
If the technology cooperates, the Nemours contingent plans to blog and post pictures from Peru throughout the mission, which you can follow on the hospital’s Facebook account.
They will begin documenting their journey upon arrival.