The Republic of Guatemala has always been a focus of the International Medical Outreach (IMO) Program. The fact that UNICAR, the Guatemalan Heart Institute, has been so successful in its endeavors, did not mean that this country of 6 million, about half of them Mayan Indians, are relieved of the burden of cardiac care.

The primary reason is the lack of funds, an issue common to all Central American countries. During the years there was a continued flow of support from Charlotte to Guatemala, including the shipping of a fully equipped heart diagnostic laboratory capable to be used as both a mobile unit to be driven to different peripheral hospitals, or to be stationed at UNICAR to relieve its overloaded facilities. The unit is used extensively with several hundred heart catheterizations and other complex cardiac studies done at the facility.

UNICAR – 25 Years of Success

UNICAR, located in Guatemala City, is the only health institute in Central America fully dedicated to cardiology and cardiac surgery and one of the two locations on the subcontinent where cardiac surgery is performed. In 2014, UNICAR celebrated it’s 25th anniversary. Read more of UNICAR’s history and some of their major milestones.

New OR Expands Services in Guatemala City

The Heineman Foundation of Charlotte, together with Carolinas HealthCare System, celebrated the opening of a new operating room at Unidad Cirugía Cardiovascular de Guatemala (UNICAR) in Guatemala City.

UNICAR, the only such establishment on the sub-continent of Central America dedicated to cardiac care, was founded with the help of IMO in 1973.  It serves as the primary care institution for cardiology and cardiac surgery in Guatemala, as well as a referral center for the diagnosis and treatment of heart diseases of neighboring countries. Read more about the new OR in Guatemala City.

First Lady of Guatemala Visits Heineman Foundation

During a two-day trip in 2015 to Charlotte, NC, the First Lady of Guatemala, Rosa Leal de Pérez, visited Carolinas HealthCare System’s Carolinas Medical Center and during the tour recognized the Heineman Foundation of Charlotte and Carolinas HealthCare System for its ongoing support to develop sustainable healthcare in Guatemala through medical equipment donations and education. Over the past two years, Heineman has worked with the First Lady’s foundation, Secretaría de Obras Sociales de la Esposa del Presidente (SOSEP), to provide quality healthcare equipment and services to Guatemalan hospitals and clinics in need. Read more about the First Lady’s visit.

Neonatal ICU Opens in Cobán, Guatemala

The Heineman Foundation of Charlotte and Carolinas HealthCare System continued their support of Guatemala’s healthcare in 2015 with the installation of a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Hospital Regional de Cobán. The donation of infant beds, warmers and monitors in Cobán will reduce infant deaths caused in part by overcrowding in the NICU. The NICU equipment was transported by Chiquita Brands vessels to Guatemala. Read more about the NICU.

Amatitlán, Guatemala

Thank you, AirTight Mechanical, Inc., for helping make possible the donation of much-needed HVAC units to medical clinics in Amatitlán, Guatemala.

Virtual Communications Portal

The IMO Program has taken on the task of bringing Guatemalan cardiac care into the digital age. Carolinas HealthCare System  donated a Siemens picture archiving and communication system (PACS) that was used to establish a digital communication-bridge between UNICAR in Guatemala and Sanger Heart and Vascular Institute (SHVI) in Charlotte, North Carolina. The bridge allows the transfer of images such as echocardiograms and provides immediate consultation with Charlotte-based cardiologists and cardiac surgeons, as well as participation of Guatemalan counterparts in common clinical and scientific conferences. This service is free and available 24-hours a day.

“The bridge represents a major advancement in the quality of care received by our Guatemalan patients suffering from various heart conditions,” said José Raúl Cruz Molina, M.D., Director of UNICAR and cardiologist trained at Carolinas Medical Center. “It brings our hospital system one step closer to offering leading-edge medical solutions to our communities.”

The IMO is using this bridge to connect the 12 major rural hospitals in Guatemala identified by UNICAR to establish the Guatemalan networking echocardiographic program. As part of this program, health providers (nurses or technologists) are sent to SHVI, where they undergo 3 months of intensive training in echocardiography.

Echocardiology Training and Network Expansion

Upon their return home, the technicians are further trained on the local equipment and then moved to one of the networking villages. When the technicians are ready, the hospital is provided with an echo-laboratory where the tests may be performed. The completed tests are digitally forwarded to UNICAR’s already installed PAC-system, interpreted by UNICAR cardiologists, after which appropriate action such as clinical treatment or transfer to UNICAR, may be taken.

The first city connected to the networking program was Quetzaltenango. The public health sector in Quetzaltenango, the second largest city in Guatemala, previously had absolutely no public access to echocardiography with the only machine located in a private clinic which is too expensive for the general population. The only way to obtain the necessary test was to travel by bus 5-6 hours to the capital. Now, having been able to install a high capacity Siemens imaging unit in the regional public hospital of the Hospital de San Juan de Dios, which serves the two million Guatemalans living in the northern part of the country, and placing a Charlotte-trained Guatemalan technician to operate it, the population has free access to echo studies.

In July 2012, the Program opened the 3rd echocardiography laboratories in Guatemala’s Regional Hospital of Cuilapa-Santa Rosa. As of November, 2012, 5 of 12 labs have been completed with the remaining 7 labs in progress.

Intensive Care Units

In addition to the echocardiographic imaging project, the Program was presented by Dr. Giovanni Ortega Mendez, Director of the Hospital de San Juan de Dios, with three other urgent requests: Refurbish their Emergency Department; and provide them with a 12-bed Adult, and a 12-bed Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.

Complying with his request, we have already started to install a fully equipped, up-to-date Adult Intensive Care Unit. We have also sent experts from the Department of Emergency Medicine of Carolinas Medical Center to advise them as how to reorganize their Emergency Department, – a place with a lot of patients but very limited resources. Some of the monitoring and respiratory care equipment needed to efficiently operate the department has already been delivered.

The construction of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit was completed and is being equipped with all the necessary equipment such as monitors, respirators and other vital equipment.

Rodolfo Robles Award

In November 2010, our Program was presented the Rodolfo Robles Award, which is the highest medical honor in Guatemala. This prestigious recognition represents the many years of dedication and perseverance of the medical outreach initiatives of Carolinas HealthCare System, Heineman Foundation of Charlotte, and all those who have participated in making a difference in the lives of the people of Guatemala who have been deprived of healthcare services. The ceremony was held at the Presidential Palace and the Vice President, Dr. Rafael Espada, who was flanked by other high ranking government officials, presented the award to Dr. Robicsek.

Mobile Heart Diagnostic Unit

In 2011, Quetzaltenango became the recipient of a Mobile Heart Diagnostic Unit, the fifth one installed by the Program in Central America, making it the first Guatemalan city outside the capital where heart catheterizations will be performed. The laboratory is manned by a Guatemalan cardiologist, who now has access to respective technology.

Technology to Educate Initiative

The IMO Program  was approached by Mr. Fernando Paiz, a member of Heineman’s Board of Directors, with the request to partner with Microsoft Corporation and Fundación Sergio Paiz Andrade (FUNSEPA), a Guatemalan non-profit foundation dedicated to promoting education, in a unique initiative to modernize the public school system in Guatemala.

The initiative, Technology to Educate, aims to equip 19,000 schools in Guatemala with computer laboratories and help children and adults in rural communities thrive in today’s digital society and workplace.

Between 2011 and 2012, the IMO Program shipped 6,000 computers donated by Carolinas HealthCare System and other Charlotte businesses, with a goal to donate 15,000 more. IMO collects deaccessioned but still viable computers, wipes the hard drives clean using Tableau Drive Wiper (a method which is approved and used by the United States Department of Defense), and ships them to Guatemala where the software is installed by Microsoft, and the computers are distributed by FUNSEPA to the rural schools in Guatemala. In Guatemala, FUNSEPA hires young adults for two-year contracts to install the software and clean the hardware. As such, they gain computer skills that will help them in the job market.

As part of the initiative, FUNSEPA provides computer training for teachers. FUNSEPA team members travel to rural schools to perform training classes in laboratories near the teachers. Training attendance usually exceeds 100% as teachers in the area always are eager to participate and expand their computer skills. One teacher, for example, developed math software from his training and won first place at the Microsoft Innovative Teachers Forum.

The computer are extremely well received, not only by students and teachers, but also by the parents who are educated on the computers after school hours at night. Francis Robicsek, MD, PhD, President of The Heineman Foundation of Charlotte said, “It is an unforgettable experience to see the children who have never been exposed to modern technology, “work the computers” with absolute self-assurance within hours after having been introduced to them.”