In July 2017, the International Medical Outreach (IMO) Program, a collaboration between Atrium Health and Heineman Medical Outreach, Inc., joined Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital (KHMH) to host the third annual Heart of Belize Community Outreach event, which provides free heart health screenings and education to Belizeans at risk for cardiac disease.

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in Belize, a statistic due mainly to rheumatic heart disease, a chronic condition that can lead to heart failure and death if left untreated. While early detection is key to treating such ailments, Belizeans in rural communities lack access to necessary cardiac care services; this makes community outreach events like Heart of Belize essential for diagnosis.

This year, medical providers from Charlotte, Belize, and Guatemala ventured into the remote areas of Orange Walk and Corozal to screen residents for heart diseases and abnormalities through EKG tests and cardiac echocardiography scans on site. Participants were also educated on heart valve disease, signs of stroke, and healthy living. Out of 250 individuals screened, 22% were diagnosed as needing additional evaluations or treatment for cardiac care.

“We saw a number of patients for whom we were their first point of contact for this type of medical evaluation. In some, we identified rheumatic or congenital heart disease issues they didn’t know they had,” said participating physician Geoffrey A. Rose, MD, FACC, FASE, Chief of the Division of Adult Cardiology, Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute at the Atrium Health. “We also had the opportunity to emphasize the importance of engaging in heart healthy behaviors, like adhering to a proper diet, exercising on a regular basis, and taking prescribed medications. Participating in this event was an incredibly powerful and worthwhile experience.”

Like many others in their communities, Orange Walk resident Maria Mena and Corozal resident Presley Rancharan were at risk for heart failure due to rheumatic heart disease. They traveled to KHMH in Belize City for diagnosis and for mitral valve replacement surgery, performed by Adrian Coye, MD, Chief Executive Officer at KHMH, and by Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute cardiology and cardiac teams. Cardiac care services established at KHMH five years ago helped make such diagnoses and surgeries possible. Today, Mena and Rancharan are healthier, active members of their communities and greeted Dr. Coye and other providers during this year’s Heart of Belize events.

The advanced heart screenings at Heart of Belize were performed by Dr. Rose and Dr. Coye, along with Ashley McDaniel, nurse practitioner with Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute, Mike Martinez, echosonographer at KHMH, and Oscar Flores, echosonographer from UNICAR in Guatemala City. Ten nursing students from Carolinas College of Health Sciences, part of Atrium Health, helped with the initial screening of Belizean patients.

Heart of Belize was made possible in part by generous contributions from Edwards Lifesciences Foundation and Bowen & Bowen.