Helping Hands Make Healthy Hearts

It's a bitter pill to swallow that nearly 6 million children around the world have congenital or acquired heart defects and no access to care. The good news is that most of these kids can be saved, allowing them to grow, dream, and play into adulthood. But the challenge we still face is that corrective heart treatment is only available to 7 percent of the world's population. Kids in sub-Saharan Africa are least likely to receive help for their hearts, with upwards of 6,000 at risk in Uganda alone. Countries like Jamaica also suffer for lack of available medical assistance.

Geography -- or lack of medical insurance -- shouldn't be a death sentence. The Larry King Cardiac Foundation (LKCF) was founded with that belief. Several years ago, we extended our focus beyond heart disease in the United States to help kids in other countries. We work with volunteer doctors who travel to Uganda and Jamaica and accomplish key objectives beyond providing live-saving surgeries. They train both physicians and other essential hospital staff on site to share skills so that support can be continuous between visits.

Two doctors who have been vital to this effort are Dr. Craig Sable at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and Dr. Jeffery Jacobs of the All Children's Heart Institute in Tampa, Florida. Together, they and their colleagues have saved hundreds of young lives and planted the seeds for even greater impact over time. Here are just a few highlights.

Since 2003, Dr Sable has led 14 medical missions to Uganda's Mulago Hospital and worked directly with the Uganda Heart Institute there to operate, teach, train, and conduct joint research with local physicians and nurses. The results are remarkable. Uganda is now one of only three countries in the region that offers independent pediatric open-heart surgery. LKCF sponsored a trip in February, which touched more than 200 kids with screenings and operations.

Dr. Jacobs has directed eight pediatric cardiac missions to Kingston, Jamaica, since 2006. With the support of his team and LKCF, they have made significant inroads in teaching, as well as care. On the most recent trip in April 2013, seven open heart surgeries were performed by local surgeon Sherard Little with the team's assistance. Multiple Jamaican surgeons were trained in mitral valve repair, ensuring that their impact will extend far beyond.

LKCF sends out a huge thanks to the young heart heroes of Uganda and Jamaica, to Dr. Sable and Dr. Jacobs, and to the American and Ugandan medical teams, for being part of a collective effort that makes all our hearts beat stronger.