Health Care Staff: Heart-to-Heart mission team

A group of Milwaukee health care professionals traveled with the Heart-to-Heart program to the Dominican Republic in October for a 10-day journey. While there, they provided heart valve replacements for young people stricken with valvular heart disease.

The 22nd Heart-to-Heart mission was co-led by cardiothoracic surgeons Dr. Curtis Quinn, on staff at Community Memorial Hospital, and Dr. John Crouch of Aurora Health Care. The team was also comprised of two groups of health care professionals from Community Memorial Hospital, Aurora Health Care and Waukesha Memorial Hospital.

The surgeries were performed at the 520-bed Jose Maria Cabral y Baez Hospital in Santiago, the second-largest city in the Dominican Republic. The hospital has a medical school and residency program and serves a population of 3.2 million but does not offer cardiac surgery.

The Heart-to-Heart program was founded by cardiac surgeon Dr. Robert D. Pascotto of Fort Meyers, Fla., in 2002.

Quinn was in contact with Pascotto in 2007 and partnered with Crouch to co-lead his first medical mission. Quinn praised the efforts of Pascotto for arranging such a successful program and for creating relationships beneficial to both cardiac health and for a population in need.

“Cardiac surgery is the most technical because of the current hardware and supply,” Quinn said. “It is technically labor intensified and there are not a lot of programs out there.”

The team performed two successful surgeries each day with a limited time allotted for each patient’s care and recovery.

It took a year to plan. Heidi Dittert, a registered nurse from Community Memorial Hospital, assumed the role as team coordinator communicating with Pascotto about supply needs and at one point offered her garage to store all of the supplies. Dittert, who had been on a previous mission trip to Haiti, was excited to accept Quinn’s invitation to join the mission.

“The (experience) changed my own life. Even though I went into nursing to care for others, (this trip) puts life into perspective on how good we have it,” she said. “Sometimes you need that jolt.”

Quinn credits the success of the mission to his team.

“I work with an awesome team at Community Memorial, and when you work 12 hours a day, you get to know your team well. I knew we could take our success and do it somewhere else because I knew I could rely on my team,” he said. “It has been over 15 years of trust.”

The other team members from Aurora and Waukesha Memorial worked well with the team members from Community Memorial, Quinn said.

“We brought competing systems together to help people,” he said. “We put down the competition to work together. It instills basic humanity again.”

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