Cardiac Program

Belize Cardiac Program

Belize, a former British colony and the only English-speaking country in Central America, only has two major hospitals: One in the capital Belmopan and the other in Belize City, the Karl Heuser Memorial Hospital (KHMH).

Honors Bestowed on Belizean Physician

Adrian Coye, MD, chief of cardiothoracic surgery and medical services director at the KHMH, has been appointed to the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in recognition of his outstanding contributions to Medicine in Belize. He is one of only three recipients of this prestigious recognition in Belize and was awarded the insignia of Ordinary Officers of the Civil Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Since 2011, he has helped build Belize’s first cardiology and cardiac surgery program in the country’s only tertiary care hospital – Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital – offering affordable and accessible heart care to all residents in the country.

Read more about the honors bestowed on Dr. Coye.

History of Belize Cardiac Program

Although heart disease is the second leading cause of death in Belize, the country lacked a modern cardiac diagnostic or interventional facility until 2011, when the International Medical Outreach (IMO) Program began providing support. IMO became aware of Belize’s cardiology-crisis through Sir Barry Bowen, the country’s prominent citizen who arranged a meeting with some key health care providers at KHMH. The conference revealed that those who could afford it went outside the country to receive cardiac services, and those who could not were treated locally the best way they could without modern diagnostic equipment. There was also no possibility to treat imminent heart attacks with invasive cardiological management, despite the fact that appropriately trained cardiologists were “on the premises.”

First Cath Lab in Belize

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, bringing cardiac care in the country into the 21st Century. A special advantage of the laboratory is that it is housed in a large trailer that contains its own generator. The trailer can be moved in emergency situations, such as a hurricane, and also used as an x-ray facility. The procedures performed in the laboratory have helped identify several patients in need of open heart surgery.

“We are proud and privileged to support our colleagues in Belize and to help them offer advanced cardiovascular services for the benefit of their citizens,” said Michael Tarwater, chief executive officer of Atrium Health. “Our involvement in this momentous accomplishment is an outcome of Atrium Health’s commitment to healthcare innovation and its quality cardiology programs through Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute (SHVI) of Charlotte, North Carolina. We look forward to continuing our collaboration globally.”

First Open Heart Surgery in Belize

In July 2012, physicians from KHMH and from Atrium Health performed the first open heart surgery in Belize. Adrian Coye, MD, chief of cardiothoracic surgery and medical services director at the KHMH, and R. Mark Stiegel, MD, FACS, cardiothoracic surgeon with SHVI performed a coronary artery bypass graft on a 72-year-old Belizean man and a mitral valve replacement on a 56-year-old Belizean woman.

“Today is the best day, the best day. I don’t know how to describe it, but it means a lot to me because I’m so happy. I will be free,” said Emir Alfaro, the first open heart surgery patient in Belize City.

“This is a very special moment that has allowed everyone involved to make history in Belize,” said Dr. Coye. “Belizean patients should receive the same level of care as others worldwide, and we are thrilled to have reached this point in what we can offer for medical services in our country.”

Ongoing Support

Due to the ongoing support from the IMO Program, KHMH has the equipment and the medical expertise necessary to diagnose and treat patients with heart ailments in the country.

“This is an exciting time for the people of Belize, and we hope this achievement paves the way for future improvements in the country’s healthcare services,” said Francis Robicsek, MD, PhD, founder and vice president of the IMO Program. “In collaboration with SHVI, we will continue our support to KHMH and emerging cardiology program to provide sustainable cardiac care in Belize.”

Volunteer cardiology and surgical teams from SHVI continue to lend their time and talents to assist the physicians of KHMH to perform cardiac interventions. This activity makes it possible for Belize’s public medical facilities to offer advanced cardiac services. IMO will continue to send teams until a local interventional cardiologist is able to perform catheterizations alone.

Heart of Belize Outreach Event

Atrium Health joined the Heineman Foundation of Charlotte and the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital (KHMH) for the first time in 2016 in hosting the Heart of Belize Outreach event, for cardiac screenings for rheumatic heart disease and other heart abnormalities. 

More than 100 youth, ages 16-30, were screened and half were found at risk for having the disease. Rheumatic heart disease is a chronic condition caused by rheumatic fever that affects the heart valve. 

If left untreated, it can lead to heart failure and death. Youth at risk received an EKG test or a cardiac echocardiography scan on-site, and all youth were encouraged to learn more about heart health at an education station. All screenings were free to participants.

Read more about the annual Heart of Belize Outreach event.

In 2017, the Second Annual Heart of Belize Community Outreach event spread its wings and ventured to the rural areas of Santa Elena and Dangriga. Despite the pouring rain, almost 100 people were screened in Santa Elena and received education about heart valve disease, healthy lifestyle and nutrition.  The event in Dangriga was held at the Stann Creek Ecumenical Junior College, where approximately 65 people were screened.

Read more about the 2nd Annual Heart of Belize Outreach event.

Communication Portal

In September 2013, IMO launched a virtual communication portal with KHMH that enables KHMH cardiologists to consult, in real-time, with SHVI cardiologists throughout North and South Carolina on complex cardiac diagnostic cases using advanced video capabilities and the transfer of echocardiographic and radiological images of Belizean patients. It also will allow for cardiologists and other care providers from both countries to make more informed, timely recommendations for treatment plans of different clinical conditions.

First Echo Lab in Belize

On January 20, 2014, the IMO Program and KHMH celebrated the establishment of Belize’s first public cardiology program fully-equipped to perform diagnostic and interventional services by the opening of a diagnostic echocardiography (echo) laboratory at the KHMH in Belize City. The cardiology program – supported via equipment donations and personnel training by the IMO Program – has evolved from having no equipment to deliver cardiac services to now offering echocardiographs, cardiac catheterizations and open heart surgeries.

Since the initial donation of a mobile cath lab in 2011, the KHMH has performed more than 130 cardiac catheterizations and 16 open heart surgeries. The new echo lab will allow KHMH to more than double the number of patients diagnosed for heart problems each week, reducing patients’ wait time for an echo test from months to weeks or days.

“Within three years, our evolving program has resulted in many first time events for the hospital and Belize, due to careful planning, high clinical standards and generous supporters like the IMO Program,” said Adrian Coye, MD. “We have opened access to a range of routine services that previously were not accessible to most Belizeans and have advanced heart care at KHMH by almost 30 years.”

“Our journey with the IMO Program and the resulting cardiology program is as a success story that has resulted in newfound hope for our patients and has helped us achieve a higher level of quality care at KHMH,” said Gary Longsworth, MD, chief executive officer of the KHMH. “The evolution of our cardiac services has been transformational and is a testament of the determination of our hospital to make a difference in the course of medicine in Belize.”

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