Unlike previous missions to Christmas Island in Kiribati, our PIMA heart team; led by cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. David Moore MD, this time provided screenings to eight additional islands in the Republic of Kiribati.
We began our trip in November at Tabiteuea North, which is an island south of the capital of Tarawa, and which is rarely visited by outsiders.
Preparations began months before we arrived, where one of the specially trained medical assistants, Kautu, visited multiple adjacent islands in search of patients with specific symptoms in an effort to maximize the efficiency of our Pacific Islands Medical Aid (PIMA) heart team. It paid off.
We screened almost 300 patients there and identified 22 surgical candidates, including children with congenital heart conditions… where we hope to have corrective surgery as soon as January of 2017.
We were welcomed with open arms and a sense of gratitude I’ve only experienced with the Kiribati people.
Our next mission was to evaluate residents on Tarawa and surrounding islands, where our total screenings reached nearly 500 with 55 surgical candidates.
The local staff, led by Kiribati Director of Hospital Services, Dr. Burentau, was most helpful. Staff members many times worked well past their normal hours and into the night to make sure we were able to evaluate everyone who came forward.
Leaving was sad for all of us, as we grew close to the people of Kiribati and the staff we were able to work with. But the mission continues and we will return time and time again to provide whatever assistance we can.
And in the future, we plan to provide a cardiac ultrasound course to some staff members, to teach screening techniques. This, and other efforts, will be vital to supporting the medical staff there and sustaining the heart-screening program in Kiribati.