Heart diseases in Nigeria: A rescue team that comes like angels
By Abraham Ariyo
Each year, an American-based, Nigerian-born, team of heart specialists: Interventional Cardiologists, Electrophysiologists, Nurses and Cardiac device (pacemaker and stent) companies from the United States would fly to Nigeria for a week of marathon cardiovascular care. This effort includes teaching, training-workshops, lectures, and performing practical live cases that are beamed all over Nigeria to interested teaching hospitals. Specifically, the practical aspect involves performing pacemakers, defibrillators (AICD), angioplasty with placing coronary stents in occluded heart arteries and leg stents to salvage diseased legs.
Last month, the team visited University College Hospital (UCH) in Ibadan, the site of previous year’s operation. Patients were referred from all over Nigeria: some from Ilorin and others as far as Kano in Northern Nigeria. On arrival at UCH, however, the cardiac catheterization laboratory (procedure room) was down.
Luckily, there is a functioning lab at a private Medical University (Babcock) in the next state (Ogun), a 2-hour bus-ride. The UCH management was kind enough to provide a Bus that transported both the crew and the supplies to the new facility. Although, the man (American-trained cardiologist) who runs the lab was out of town, the team was shown the lab and it was functional.
One patient at a time, the procedures started. Day by day, patients were getting what they needed and the students and residents were witnessing these life-saving procedures and interacting with this first-class, cardiovascular team.
Importantly, medical conditions that constitute medical emergency here in the U.S. could not be treated as such in Nigeria. Patients with complete heart block (3rd degree) were walking around dizzy and eating their meals in peace, waiting for the Lord. If they are lucky, meet this team to correct the conditions with dual chamber pacemakers that is good for 10-12 years. Further, patients with life-threatening, severe 3-vessel coronary disease were in the same situation. During the visit, these patients received coronary stents to open block heart arteries. Likewise, people with purple legs from blocked leg arteries had their arteries re-opened, saving their legs.
At the end of each day, the 2-hour bus-ride back to the hotel in Ibadan on a winding and unpaved road takes a toll over the physical body and felt like the body had been beaten as if you were in a war zone. However, when you look at the smiles, hopes, joy and happiness on the faces of these patients, and realizing that God had allowed the team to give a fresh lease on life unto these people, you thank the Lord and realize that the effort is worth it as the team continues to do much with little.
Abraham A. Ariyo, MD,
Interventional Cardiologist, Baylor Scott & White
HeartMasters Dallas, TX