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Cardiac surgeon mends little hearts in India and Africa

A leading cardiac surgeon from Alder Hey Children’s Hospital has been using his skills to save the lives of babies and children in some of the world’s poorest countries for almost a decade.

Mr Ram Dhannapuneni has been travelling to towns and cities in India and Africa to perform cardiac surgery on children fighting for their lives since he became involved with Healing Little Hearts in 2009.

Healing Little Hearts is a children’s charity, which funds visits by medical staff to perform cardiac surgery on children in remote areas who otherwise wouldn’t have access to treatment.

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                      Mr Ram Dhannapuneni


Thousands of children are born with heart defects each year, but not all children have access to a public health system like the NHS.
Mr Dhannapuneni organises three trips each year taking cardiac and intensive care teams to various hospitals across India and Africa to perform life-saving surgery.

He said: “To give these children a chance to live is the most incredible thing a person with medical skills can do.
“In developing countries the cases our staff deal with are a lot more complex with more advanced disease than they see in the UK.”

The team has to be innovative and use their initiative to overcome problems with limited resources.

They have created heart valves using tissue from the pericardium, which is the layer covering the heart, as parents are unable to afford expensive commercially available heart valves. 

Mr Dhannapuneni has also been training medics who he works with in these countries to perform operations themselves and has set up a WhatsApp group to assist surgeons in India ahead of complex surgery.           

Ram at Fatima camp (6).jpegRam at Fatima camp (7).jpeg Ram at Fatima camp (4).jpeg

Some of his most rewarding experiences have been in Tanzania due to the complex nature of cases.

Mr Dhannapuneni said: “The under resourced medical systems in these countries mean that the children we see often have heart conditions, which have developed far beyond what we would see in the UK.

“In Tanzania, we successfully operated on children who were deemed inoperable by the previously visiting Australian and Israeli teams.

“In Karimnagar, India I met children who were 11, 12 and 13 who had holes in their hearts, which meant they had struggled throughout their lives, developing high pressure in their lungs. In the UK we carry out operations on babies before they reach six months old to close these holes.”

He added: “The surgery we carry out is not only essential to give these children a fair chance in life - it is also an incredible opportunity for the team to learn and develop their skills.”

In October, Mr Dhannapuneni visited Karimnagar in South India with a cardiologist, cardiac anaesthetist and cardiac intensive care team from Alder Hey.
The team spent a week in India meeting several children, carrying out investigations and performing 16 operations.

Open heart surgery can often take from three to five hours and sometimes up to 13 hours for particularly complicated cases.

The team also held clinics and workshops where they helped to develop the skills of local medics and nurses.

Mr Dhannapuneni said: “We come back as a better and stronger team, which benefits our patients here in Liverpool and enhances Alder Hey’s reputation as a world leader in paediatric care.”

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