For many Nicaraguans, a diagnosis of a heart condition such as mitral valve stenosis – a debilitating complication that can be the end result of untreated strep throat – is grim news that offers little in the way of hope.
“If patients have the money, they can travel to another country to receive care,” said Michael Yeung, a UNC interventional cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at the School of Medicine. “If they don’t have the money, they die.”
To help bridge this enormous gap, Yeung, along with a group of UNC experts including John Vavalle, Alan Hinderliter, Lucius Howell, Joshua Vega, Roman Baczara and Charlene Marie Whayne, traveled to León, Nicaragua, as part of medical mission called Project Health León, aimed at bringing life-saving, high-level medical expertise to a country with no heart surgeons and not enough cardiologists to meet the developing nation’s medical needs.
“Medicine is a calling and a passion for us,” said Vavalle, associate professor of medicine in the division of cardiology and medical director of the UNC Structural Heart Disease Program. “It’s very gratifying to be able to use our knowledge and skills to help those who are suffering and who would not otherwise have access to the kind of care we provide.”
Project Health for León was originally started by physicians from the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. In recent years, their medical missions have grown to include cardiologists and heart surgeons from across the state. In 2015, Yeung and Howell joined the mission, offering minimally invasive structural interventions for problems such as damaged heart valves, which can’t be treated with medication.
Read more at the School of Medicine website.