“Here, Insert This Wire Into My Heart!”—A Brief Look at Cardiac Development in Fallujah And Around the World

Unlike our previous nine Remedy Missions in the last two years, this Fallujah mission is the first time we’ve ever launched a heart center from scratch.

This center has just come into existence and is still years away from doing surgeries on its own. Instead, to ease their way in, they will begin with “cardiac catheterizations”—a method of treatment and diagnosis that requires a catheter sheath to be inserted into the heart through a small incision. Catheterizations were the first heart operations, first performed in 1929 by Werner Forssman (Forßmann), a guy who thought it would be a good idea to insert a wire into his arm and weave it through his circulatory system until he could feel the wire poking around inside his heart (he also had X-ray to help out). From there, the innovations have become even more amazing!

As diagnostics came to reveal more and more about the heart and children born with heart defects, catheterizations gave way to heart surgery and, eventually, “open heart surgery,” which requires that the heart and lungs be bypassed so that they can be “shut down” and operated on more safely. Of course, this was deemed blasphemous when it was first suggested and attempted: “Who do you think you are, God? Only God can stop the heart and bring it back to life!”

Open heart surgery has developed in its relatively young life to heal millions upon millions of broken hearts, but cardiac cath teams continue to demand attention, believing that many hearts can be mended without the risk and pain of open heart surgery.

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Today, cardiologists work in tandem with surgeons to diagnose various problems through the same basic catheterizations that launched this field of medicine (only today they do it with incredibly sophisticated precision and science behind them). And cardiologists also heal many heart lesions in their own right through the insertion of devices that serve to “patch” holes or “balloon” passageways that are too narrow.

Much like the history of cardiology and cardiac surgery itself, the Fallujah program will go through a similar trajectory: cardiac caths will heal some of the “easier” children, eventually giving way to “closed heart”—and then simpler “open heart”—surgery. Eventually, increasingly risky and innovative local surgery will come to rely more and more heavily on cardiac diagnostics.

A few of the Fallujah milestones since the day we arrived:

– Our team of 9 Americans is told we are the first unarmed Americans to visit Fallujah

– Fallujans fire up the cath lab for the very first time with two adult patients

– The first child (Beqas, pictured above) in the history of Anbar receives a diagnostic cath to determine her operability

– The first child (Sara) in the history of the Anbar province receives a cath operation that heals her heart

– Joint interviews with the press reveal underlying tensions about Americans but a solid commitment among our Fallujan partners to treat our team with great hospitality and welcome.

Come back tomorrow to hear more first-hand stories of your impact in Fallujah!

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