About one in every 100 children has a heart defect or congenital heart disease, according to the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne.
Brandy Hattendorf, a pediatric cardiologist with Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, explains heart disease is a common problem with mostly simple solutions.
But, in underdeveloped nations without access to modern medicine, she added, even the smallest of heart issues can be deadly for children.
“The majority of countries in the world don’t have any kind of cardiac care for children,” says Hattendorf. “So that means in large countries, there’s hundreds of thousands of children who die. We have the technology to help them; they just don’t have access to it.”
That’s why the Manhattan Beach resident travels around the world to help children gain access to heart care.
Hattendorf embarked on a mission to Tanzania in Eastern Africa in November 2018 with a nonprofit organization called Save A Child’s Heart—which has helped 5,000 children since it began in 1995—to provide evaluations to children there, many of whom had never had significant medical care.
“For them, it’s such an opportunity to even know what’s going on,” she said. “Usually there is an overwhelming number of children, so you do what you can, as fast as you can.”
During her 10-day trip, Hattendorf and an international team of about 30 volunteers—including a cardiothoracic surgeon, Intensive Care Unit physicians, other pediatric cardiologists and nurses—screened about 80 children using ultrasounds, EKGs and echocardiograms.
She said the group treated 24 of the children, even taking some to the international pediatric cardiac facility the organization operates in Israel for more complex procedures.
“Literally, you’ve changed their fate. They’re so appreciative and the families are so appreciative,” Hattendorf said, noting that getting to meet people from other countries is also inspiring to many of the patients.
The group also helped train a local team in Tanzania so the community would have access to care once they left.
“That’s the goal within the organization is to make sure these countries are self-sufficient,” Hattendorf said. “I want to impart my knowledge to other physicians so that they can also take care of their own people.”
At the end of her trip, the team was surprised by an invitation to visit the home of President of Tanzania, John Pombe Joseph Magufuli.
The leader presented each of them with a keepsake statue to honor their work.
“He thanked us for our efforts, so that was really amazing,” Hattendorf said.
The cardiologist has since returned to her home in the South Bay and continues to work at the Children’s Hospital but is banking more time off to go on her next mission.
“It’s a really amazing feeling to do what you normally do every day, but then to be able to go somewhere and know you really made a difference,” she said. “It’s just an incredible, moving feeling because it’s not just the child that you’ve impacted, you’ve impacted the whole family.”
To help Save A Child’s Heart, visit https://www.saveachildsheart.org/