The first open-heart surgery in Malawi took place on November 1, thanks to the service of Hearts for Mission International, a ministry of Adventist-Laymen’s Services and Industries Missions. [Photo: ASi Missions]

General Conference

First Ever Open-Heart Surgery in Malawi Offers Hope to Millions of Cardiac Patients

Groundbreaking feat was part of the new Hearts for Mission International program

Malawi | ASi Missions, and Adventist Review

On November 1, 2023, Hearts for Mission International (H4MI), a new ministry of Adventist-Laymen’s Services and Industries (ASI), embarked on an extraordinary journey with the potential to change the lives of countless people in sub-Saharan Africa. The first ever open-heart surgery was successfully performed in the country of Malawi by H4MI at Blantyre Adventist Hospital.

H4MI, together with a dedicated team of 20 medical personnel and staff from the United States and Kenya, including two highly experienced cardiovascular surgeons, achieved a historic feat by performing two open-heart surgeries that week.

The initiative aims to provide lifesaving cardiovascular solutions to sub-Saharan Africa, a region plagued by significant heart disease-related deaths and a staggering ratio of just one cardiothoracic surgeon for every 14.3 million people. Doctors Nan Wang and Arega Fekadu Leta, cardiothoracic surgeons, along with a dedicated team of doctors, nurses, and hospital and administrative staff, led these groundbreaking operations.

“Until now, only patients who could afford to fly to South Africa or India could get lifesaving surgeries,” said Jason Blanchard, H4MI CEO. “An ASI Missions Inc. department, H4MI came to Malawi, where it’s serving with the government to bring care to its people. It’s really a story of hope for the country.”

“By literally touching the hearts of a few, we have reached out and touched the heart of the nation and its people,” Dr. Wang added. “This mission trip has also moved the heart team in so many ways. All of us are forever changed because we have seen faith in action.… We will be back!”

Eliza Frank, a 33-year-old mother of four, was a subsistence farmer before contracting rheumatic heart disease. Her symptoms, including shortness of breath and heart palpitations upon any exertion, forced her to stop farming and rely on her mother and sister for support. With limited access to medical interventions, Frank’s situation was all but hopeless. However, she was one of two patients selected to undergo a life-changing procedure, becoming the first person in Malawi to receive open-heart surgery.

The surgery was a resounding success, and Frank is now on the path to recovery at Blantyre Adventist Hospital. “We are not only thankful to God but also to our incredible team of donors and dedicated medical professionals who turned this dream into a remarkable reality,” H4MI leaders said.

Halima Daud, Malawi’s deputy minister of Health, visited Blantyre Adventist Hospital to express her heartfelt support for the patients and the H4MI team. “The government has been allocating substantial funds to send patients to India for surgeries. As a country, we are thrilled about this development because it allows these surgeries to be performed right here in Malawi,” she noted.

There is still much work to be done, H4MI leaders said. Millions of others in that region are suffering from cardiovascular conditions with little hope of recovery. A recent study noted that cardiovascular disease (CVD) is found in an estimated 1.3 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, and that number is expected to grow. Cardiovascular care in the region poses a multitude of challenges, including a shortage of trained healthcare professionals, inadequate infrastructure, and limited access to diagnostic and therapeutic interventions.

Surgical procedures that could dramatically improve the lives of millions are simply unattainable under the current conditions. By collaborating with government officials and healthcare professionals, both locally and abroad, H4MI is working to be an integral part of the solution. Frank’s surgery, performed during a ten-day H4MI cardiac camp, is a major milestone for Malawi and an extraordinary step toward long-lasting cardiovascular solutions for sub-Saharan Africa, H4MI leaders said.

H4MI is committed to continuing the work of providing life-changing care and plans on holding multiple cardiac camps abroad each year, in addition to opening a training program to equip locals with the education they need to perform lifesaving procedures, leaders reported. “This is a monumental moment, and the impact of this new ministry will be felt for generations to come,” they said.

The original version of this story was posted on the Adventist Review website.