New Partnership Provides Life-Saving Surgeries In Nigeria

In Blog by Brother's Brother Foundation

By Kaitlyn Nuebel

Hammed Afolabi was living with his wife and three children in an airport in Ibadan, Nigeria when he arrived at First Cardiology Hospital in Lagos in September 2021. He barely made enough money to support his family with his tricycle transportation service, let alone look after his health, but when the onset of fatigue and shortness of breath interfered with his ability to work and subsequently threatened his family’s income, he sought medical help.

Afolabi learned he was suffering from mitral valve regurgitation, a condition that when severe, prevents blood from circulating throughout the body. Undergoing the necessary open-heart procedure would prevent him from working for six weeks and add $40 of medication to his monthly expenses, neither of which he could afford while supporting his family.

Afolabi was left with an impossible decision: prioritize his health or provide for his family. Fortunately, he never had to make that choice. With assistance from the Vincent Obioma Ohaju Memorial (VOOM) Foundation, he was able to receive his open-heart surgery at no cost.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death globally and takes 17.9 million lives each year. While it seems unfitting to call the 500,000 Americans who undergo open-heart surgery each year lucky, many of them experience better outcomes than the millions fighting the same disease in less developed countries.

Seventy thousand children born in Nigeria each year have congenital heart disease and will need lifelong medical care. When left untreated, congenital heart disease can lead to severe complications, including stroke and heart failure. Open-heart surgery can fix or correct the birth defect in some cases, but the cost of surgery in Nigeria can reach upwards of $11,000 - more than the average salary of half of the population.

A shortage of cardiologists makes it difficult even for those who can afford surgery. In 2018, the World Health Organization estimated that roughly 72,000 surgeries are needed annually in Nigeria, requiring 356 cardiothoracic surgeons. Yet as of 2018, only five cardiothoracic surgeons were capable of performing the surgery on their own. With the country’s population expected to grow another 50 million by 2030, Nigeria will need an influx of trained surgeons to bridge its healthcare gap.

For Nigerians with severe congenital heart disease, the stakes are high.

“If they can’t afford to fly to another country, they will die. That’s the bottom line,” says Shawn Andaya-Pulliam, Executive Director of VOOM.

Founded in 2013, VOOM sends doctors to Nigeria for two weeks, where they perform open-heart surgery and train the country’s local surgeons.

Brother’s Brother Foundation provided a grant to the VOOM Foundation to help fund two of these mission trips last fall. Doctors performed more than 20 surgeries on adults and children in Oraifite and Lagos. Forty-one medical professionals took part: the pediatric mission was led by Dr. Andrew Goldstone and his entire medical team from New York-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital; and the adult mission included surgeons from Tower Health and a hospital in Sweden.

“We’re not just bringing talent, we’re bringing stellar talent,” Adaya-Pulliam said.

In addition to providing funding, BBF also partnered with the VOOM Foundation to ship malaria pharmaceuticals for doctors to administer during the trip. Nigeria accounts for 27% of global malaria cases and 32% of global malaria deaths.

Adaya-Pulliam said that without help from its partners, the VOOM foundation would not be able to implement its program.

“We can have as many medical people as you want, but we would not be able to provide free open-heart surgery without our partners. It’s just that simple,” she said.

For patients like Afolabi, treatment relied on several individuals and organizations to pay for the medication, follow-up testing, heart valves and critical care monitors needed to perform the surgery and prevent a long-term financial burden.

BBF looks forward to continuing the partnership with VOOM and Nigerian surgeons, and to provide access to life-saving medical care to more individuals like Afolabi.
Image
[Healthcare professionals volunteering with the VOOM Foundation surround Hammed Afolabi following a successful open-heart surgery to treat mitral valve regurgitation.]
Image
[Lexi Klump, a nurse anesthetist, intubates a patient during an open-heart surgery at First Cardiology Consultant Hospital in Lagos, Nigeria.]

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By Kaitlyn Nuebel

Hammed Afolabi was living with his wife and three children in an airport in Ibadan, Nigeria when he arrived at First Cardiology Hospital in Lagos in September 2021. He barely made enough money to support his family with his tricycle transportation service, let alone look after his health, but when the onset of fatigue and shortness of breath interfered with his ability to work and subsequently threatened his family’s income, he sought medical help.

Afolabi learned he was suffering from mitral valve regurgitation, a condition that when severe, prevents blood from circulating throughout the body. Undergoing the necessary open-heart procedure would prevent him from working for six weeks and add $40 of medication to his monthly expenses, neither of which he could afford while supporting his family.

Afolabi was left with an impossible decision: prioritize his health or provide for his family. Fortunately, he never had to make that choice. With assistance from the Vincent Obioma Ohaju Memorial (VOOM) Foundation, he was able to receive his open-heart surgery at no cost.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death globally and takes 17.9 million lives each year. While it seems unfitting to call the 500,000 Americans who undergo open-heart surgery each year lucky, many of them experience better outcomes than the millions fighting the same disease in less developed countries.

Seventy thousand children born in Nigeria each year have congenital heart disease and will need lifelong medical care. When left untreated, congenital heart disease can lead to severe complications, including stroke and heart failure. Open-heart surgery can fix or correct the birth defect in some cases, but the cost of surgery in Nigeria can reach upwards of $11,000 - more than the average salary of half of the population.

A shortage of cardiologists makes it difficult even for those who can afford surgery. In 2018, the World Health Organization estimated that roughly 72,000 surgeries are needed annually in Nigeria, requiring 356 cardiothoracic surgeons. Yet as of 2018, only five cardiothoracic surgeons were capable of performing the surgery on their own. With the country’s population expected to grow another 50 million by 2030, Nigeria will need an influx of trained surgeons to bridge its healthcare gap.

For Nigerians with severe congenital heart disease, the stakes are high.

“If they can’t afford to fly to another country, they will die. That’s the bottom line,” says Shawn Andaya-Pulliam, Executive Director of VOOM.

Founded in 2013, VOOM sends doctors to Nigeria for two weeks, where they perform open-heart surgery and train the country’s local surgeons.

Brother’s Brother Foundation provided a grant to the VOOM Foundation to help fund two of these mission trips last fall. Doctors performed more than 20 surgeries on adults and children in Oraifite and Lagos. Forty-one medical professionals took part: the pediatric mission was led by Dr. Andrew Goldstone and his entire medical team from New York-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital; and the adult mission included surgeons from Tower Health and a hospital in Sweden.

“We’re not just bringing talent, we’re bringing stellar talent,” Adaya-Pulliam said.

In addition to providing funding, BBF also partnered with the VOOM Foundation to ship malaria pharmaceuticals for doctors to administer during the trip. Nigeria accounts for 27% of global malaria cases and 32% of global malaria deaths.

Adaya-Pulliam said that without help from its partners, the VOOM foundation would not be able to implement its program.

“We can have as many medical people as you want, but we would not be able to provide free open-heart surgery without our partners. It’s just that simple,” she said.

For patients like Afolabi, treatment relied on several individuals and organizations to pay for the medication, follow-up testing, heart valves and critical care monitors needed to perform the surgery and prevent a long-term financial burden.

BBF looks forward to continuing the partnership with VOOM and Nigerian surgeons, and to provide access to life-saving medical care to more individuals like Afolabi.
Image
[Healthcare professionals volunteering with the VOOM Foundation surround Hammed Afolabi following a successful open-heart surgery to treat mitral valve regurgitation.]
Image
[Lexi Klump, a nurse anesthetist, intubates a patient during an open-heart surgery at First Cardiology Consultant Hospital in Lagos, Nigeria.]

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