OHSU Pediatric Cardiologist Increases Life Span for Kids in Nicaragua

06/08/00    Portland, Ore.

First Pediatric Catheterization Lab Spearheaded by Oregon Physician

Today, close to 70 children have a chance to live longer because of the vision of one man. Oregon Health Sciences University clinical instructor of pediatric cardiology Michael S. Womack, M.D., has helped set up the first functioning cardiac catheterization clinic in Managua, Nicaragua. Later this month, Womack will return with more energy and a badly needed piece of technology.

The program, dubbed the Nica Cath Project, is based on the philosophy "giving a hand up, not a hand out." The long-term goal of the project is to teach the local Nicaraguan doctors and nurses to be self-sufficient in cardiac diagnostic testing thereby improving the local standard of heart disease care. Cardiac catheterization is a process by which a catheter, or tube, is inserted into the heart for the purpose of diagnosing heart conditions. Beyond diagnosing, Womack also is teaching and performing cardiac intervention cases via catheters when treatment is needed.

Womack said, "The medical situation in Nicaragua is like time travel. The heart disease that you see in Nicaragua is like what we saw in America 30-40 years ago; it is in very advanced stages because of the lack of treatment." Not only that, he adds, but the technology and instruments are archaic as well. When he goes back down in June, he will be armed with a pulse oximeter, which measures the amount of oxygen in the blood and aids in diagnosing heart disease, donated by the Minneapolis-based organization Children's Heart Link. Though they are common place in the United States, pulse oximeters are a rare, if not unknown, commodity in Nicaragua.

With the advent of the catheterization lab, surgical teams, which in the past have been unable to treat certain conditions, are now potentially able to treat many patients. Nicaraguan children have a brighter future now that many ailments have been cured through surgery and intervention that would otherwise have been fatal or life-long afflictions.

Womack has been operating on a shoe-string budget and a lot of perseverance. So far, his work has been made possible in part by the support of Children's Heart Link and a $3,000 donation from Chairman of OHSU's Department of Pediatrics Ron G. Rosenfeld, M.D. In June, Womack plans to continue his work administering interventional and diagnostic catheterizations and educating local staff. Pictures of the Nica Cath's can be seen at http://communities.msn.com/NicaCathProject.