The International Medical Outreach (IMO) Program to date has donated and helped install eight cardiac catheterization laboratories in Central America (in Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize, and most recently El Salvador).
These laboratories can be found in rural and urban facilities and they annually help treat hundreds of patients who previously did not have access to this cardiac care service. The Program also offers free medical training opportunities to international techs, physicians and other clinicians, who must operate the cath labs or perform heart diagnostic or treatment procedures, including open heart surgery.
Prior to the first donation, Nicaragua’s six million residents had no access to heart catheterizations. With the assistance of Transtate Equipment Company, the James H. Heineman Heart Catheterization Laboratory at the Nicaraguan National Cardiology Center in Managua was officially opened in 2009. As a public care facility led by the country’s Ministry of Public Health, the Cardiology Center provides free services to any patient seeking care. In early 2011, the IMO Program upgraded the cath lab and supplied Nicaragua with a fully equipped, self-contained diagnostic laboratory suitable for various cardiac imaging.
In December 2012, a second public cath lab was donated by the IMO Program and installed outside of the National Cardiology Center (Centro Nacional de Cardiología), located by the Roberto Calderón Gutierrez Hospital. From 2007 to 2011, the number of non-invasive and invasive procedures performed at the Cardiology Center jumped from 5,141 to 16,635 and from 116 to 736. The additional cath lab will allow cardiologists to potentially double the number of cardiac procedures performed and meet the growing needs of the region.
“We are grateful for the opportunity to help Nicaragua’s medical facilities treat additional patients and to facilitate the delivery of contemporary health care to the country’s six million residents,” said Francis Robicsek, MD, PhD, vice president of the IMO Program. “This donation will immediately improve accessibility to heart care and help the National Cardiology Center offer sustainable, consistent services for years to come.”
In 2010, the IMO Program donated and installed the Heart Catheterization Laboratory at the San Pedro Sula Social Security Hospital in the Republic of Honduras. This was the second facility available to the public in Honduras, and the first to serve the three million people in the western part of the country.
In 2014, the IMO Program and Chiquita Brands celebrated one-year of successful collaboration with the installation of a mobile catheterization laboratory at La Lima Medical Center in Honduras.
“We are grateful to the donors and the partner organizations that have made it possible for our hospital to become one of the nation’s best equipped to offer life-saving cardiology services,” said Dr. Emilio Castro, director of La Lima Medical Center. “We will be able to offer these services at low cost to patients, many of whom travel to La Lima from neighboring cities that lack this type of specialized care.”
The cath lab was donated by the IMO Program with funding from the Bissell Family Foundation and transported overland in the United States by Euromex of Georgia, Inc., and carried by a Chiquita vessel to Honduras. The lab is a large, mobile unit used to diagnose and perform life-saving procedures on patients experiencing heart attack, chest pain or other symptoms of heart disease. The lab will be used to treat patients in surrounding rural areas, including many regional Chiquita employees, and will also be made available for indigent care.
“Improving lives is embedded within Chiquita’s purpose, and our employees take great pride in this partnership to improve access to quality healthcare,” said Ed Lonegran, president and chief executive officer for Chiquita. “This collaboration is a tremendous example of global community building thanks to the unique and complementary capabilities of Charlotte organizations. Together, we are helping fulfill critical healthcare needs in a way that smartly leverages and multiplies our individual resources to provide benefits to underserved communities across Central America. We join in celebrating this milestone and look forward to helping many more communities in the years ahead through our joint creativity and commitment.”
Through the support of the Bissell Family Foundation and Bowen family, the IMO Program was able to donate a fully equipped heart diagnostic laboratory in 2010 to the Guatemalan Heart Institute (UNICAR) in Guatemala City. The lab is capable of being used as both a mobile unit that can be driven to different peripheral hospitals or to be stationed at UNICAR to relieve its overloaded facilities. In 2011, a second Mobile Heart Diagnostic Unit was installed at Hospital Regional de Occidente San Juan de Dios in Quetzaltenango, making it the first Guatemalan city outside the capital where heart catheterizations are performed. The laboratory is manned by a Guatemalan cardiologist, who now has access to respective technology.
Thanks to the assistance received from Mr. Smoky Bissell and the Bowen family, the Margaret G. Bissell Catheterization Laboratory, the first one in Belize, was installed in February 2011, by the IMO Program. A special advantage of the Laboratory is that it is housed in a large trailer, which needs only a tractor to take it to higher ground should a hurricane hit the City. In such a case, with its own generator, it may even work as an emergency x-ray facility. The Program’s additional efforts connected with the Laboratory is to provide training of personnel and make available regular visits of their cardiologist to the Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute in Charlotte to maintain and update their skills.
Cardiac services are advancing in El Salvador thanks to the delivery of a cardiac catheterization laboratory to the Pro-Familia Hospital in San Salvador. Until now, cardiac teams at the hospital have relied mainly on an echocardiography laboratory installed in 2017, which to date has scanned over 1,500 underserved patients in need of cardiac diagnoses. With support from the International Medical Outreach Program (IMO), Pro-Familia hospital will now be equipped with a cardiac catheterization laboratory, which will allow medical teams to not only further diagnose patients, but also offer minimally invasive treatment to patients with coronary diseases.
The cardiac catheterization laboratory was dedicated in honor of Dan Wheeler and his son, Andy Wheeler, who supported its technical installation, as well as many other cardiac catheterization laboratories IMO has donated throughout Central America. The inauguration was held on February 21, 2019, and in attendance were the Ministry of Health, local government dignitaries, and officials from Pro-Familia, Atrium Health and Heineman Medical Outreach. The unit was officially put into operation the end of April 2019.