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GW Cardiologists Embark on Medical Mission to Save Lives in Remote Mountains of Honduras

WASHINGTON —Cardiologists from The George Washington University’s Cheney Cardiovascular Institute, Dr. Cynthia Tracy and Dr. Marco Mercader, recently returned from a “health brigade”  to Comayagua, Honduras. During the 11 day trip, the physicians not only provided screening tests and medication to the 120 patients who traveled from far and wide to get care, but also implanted 25 pacemakers and defibrillators in patients suffering from some of the most severe conditions. The devices that were implanted were donated by Medtronic Inc., Biotronic Inc., St Jude and Boston Scientific, Inc.

The people of this region are particularly vulnerable to a parasitic disease called Chagas, a condition prevalent throughout Latin America that can lead to heart blockages and the weakening of the heart muscles.

“To bring the newest technology to the people of this region is an amazing opportunity that would not happen without the support of the Cheney Cardiovascular Institute, the device manufactures, the Larry King Cardiac Foundation, and the George Washington University Hospital.   While we faced some challenges, we were able to provide life-saving treatment to our patients,” said Dr. Cynthia Tracy, Professor of Medicine at the GW School of Medicine and Health Services.  Access to device therapy in Honduras is limited and many patients would certainly have died but for the generosity of the parties who made the Medical Brigade possible.

As part of the mission, the GW physicians brought with them a new technology, called a V-Scan, which is a small device that enables the doctors to perform two dimensional echocardiograms on patients during their appointment at the clinic. In Honduras, it can take up to one year to get an appointment to receive an echocardiogram.

Because specialized treatment is so rare in the area, Hondurans took extreme measures to get to the patients to Comayagua in order to be seen by the GW physicians. Ambulances of patients were filled by a private hospital and sent to the clinic in Comayagua to receive specialized cardiac care. One man, who had been an orphan since the age of 7, walked several hours to have his pre-operation evaluation — even with a weak heart. He then walked 6 miles for additional blood work  and back to the clinic again to have a pacemaker implanted into his body. Most remarkable of all was the patient’s outcome: he walked out of the clinic the next day with a normal heart rate.

In addition to providing treatment for the patients, the physicians also gave each patient a record that might be necessary for any follow-up care. Dr. Tracy and Dr. Mercader plan to provide follow up care to their patients upon their return next year.

“Our ‘brigade’ was so inspiring and we know that without the care we provided to this population, some of them would not have been able to survive. While we look forward to returning to Comayagua, we hope that we can extend the reach of our program and provide screening and care for more people across Honduras,” said Dr. Marco Mercader.

About the Cheney Cardiovascular Institute:

The Richard B. and Lynne V. Cheney Cardiovascular Institute at The George Washington University was established in 2006 by a generous charitable contribution from former vice president Richard Cheney and his wife Lynne. The Institute’s goal is to be the leading center for cardiovascular research, education and community service – and to do so by leveraging the enormous resources of The George Washington University.