Medical Mission Update: In The Dominican Republic, Four Patients Get A “Second Chance” At Life

By Adam Pick on November 8, 2013

I recently traveled from Los Angeles to the Dominican Republic for a medical mission to treat patients with heart valve disease. Since I had never been on a mission, I didn’t know what to expect. After the mission, I can share that this five-day event altered my perception of human kindness. I was touched, moved and inspired by the patients, their families, the nurses and the doctors who came together for this extraordinary mission.

While in Santo Domingo, I saw four patients get a “second chance” at life. While in Santo Domingo, I saw three medical teams — Mount Sinai Hospital, Piedmont Heart Institute and Hospital General de la Plaza de la Salud — achieve surgical success. While in Santo Domingo, I also had a camera and a microphone which captured several beautiful moments on film. That said, I created the video below to share this experience with you.



On behalf of the patients, their families and friends, I would like to thank the Mitral Foundation for organizing and financially supporting this mission. In particular, I would like to thank Dr. David Adams, Dr. Ricardo Lazala and Gideon Sims for inviting me to Santo Domingo for the mission. I would also like to thank each person from The Mount Sinai Hospital and Piedmont Heart Institute teams including Dr. Gregory Fischer, Dr. Fred Lajam, Dr. Federico Milla, Dr. John Gott, Juan Obando and Mary Joy Santillan.

From Hospital General de la Plaza de la Salud — which hosted us so kindly in Santo Domingo — I would like to thank Dr. Miguel Guerrero, Dr. Bernarda Cedano, Dr. Warenny Montero, Dr. Alcantara Abreu Silverio, Desiree Diez Portela and Greisy Conception. I would also like to thank Edwards Lifesciences, Medtronic and Sorin Group for donating many of the medical devices and equipment that were used to reconstruct the mitral valves of each patient.


The Video Transcript

For those members of our community who are hearing impaired, I have provided a written transcript of this video below.

Adam Pick: Today, I’m thrilled to be with Dr. Ricardo Lazala of the Mount Sinai Medical Center. We’re having a conversation about some incredible medical missions that have been going on in the Dominican Republic.


Adam Pick at the Medical Mission in Dominican Republic


Dr. Ricardo Lazala: My name is Dr. Ricardo Lazala. I am the senior clinical director and assistant professor of cardiothoracic surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital. For this mission, I am the medical clinical coordinator. We have two reasons to work directly in Dominican Republic. The first reason is it’s a clinical condition because of the high incidence of rheumatic fever. The second reason is because the Dominican Republic is a developing country and these patients have limited access to the healthcare system. My responsibility is to oversee the relationship between Mount Sinai Hospital and Plaza de la Salud.

Dr. David Adams: We are trying to develop reference centers for mitral valve disease treatment in other areas around the world. We have a very important friendship and relationship with this hospital. So, I’ve come down with a lot of team members. We’ve been operating with the excellent team here in trying to broaden our horizons a bit in terms of mitral valve repair.

Dr. Miguel Guerrero:  We are planning to build a special mitral valve repair program that is headed by Dr. Adams and Mount Sinai Hospital. The plan of the hospital to make us a point of reference, in the national situation and international landscape.


Mitral Foundation Mission in Dominican Republic


Dr. Federico Milla: This is our third mission here to the Dominican Republic. We came down for the first time about a year and a half ago. We did surgery on two patients who had rheumatic disease. We were able to repair both of those patients’ valves.

Dr. Ricardo Lazala: You need a lot of resources. Every mission is different. It’s a combination of a lot of factors; instruments, equipment, and staff. It’s effort and dedication of a lot of people and technology in order to perform that complex surgery in the Dominican Republic.

Mary Joy Santillan: We brought everything — the instruments and stuff like that, to be able to do the surgery, and to make it work flawlessly, as if we were at home in New York.

Adam Pick: Just in the last operation, I noticed you were not only taking care of the patient with the anesthesia, but you were doing a lot of work on the ultrasound. Do you have more than one function in a surgical setting?

Dr. Gregory Fischer: Yes, the role of the cardiac anesthesiologist is not just to provide anesthesia during cardiac surgeries but also to acquire and interpret ultrasound images, which is done by echocardiography.

Dr. David Adams: The most incredible thing about these trips is meeting patients and families. We’ve had an especially neat group of patient stories this week. It’s really been gratifying and we’ve tackled some very difficult cases, and so far so good. We’ve had some great outcomes.

Dr. Ricardo Lazala: The Mitral Foundation means a lot for me because without Mitral Foundation, this cannot be done. It’s impossible. I can tell you so far, we need to talk about equipment, we need to talk about instrument and staff, and also the important factor here is the donors to support this mission.

Dr. David Adams: So, this patient had a bileaflet mitral repair yesterday for a prolapse, and you can see he’s doing very well. He was symptomatic with mitral valve regurgitation. He has three beautiful daughters and a very caring wife. So, we’re very excited for him.


Mitral Foundation Mission - Santo Domingo


Adam Pick:  Can we go to the next patient and you can maybe just share who the patient is and what procedure they had?

Dr. Bernarda Cedano: This is Mrs. Natalia Santana. She’s 72 hours after surgery and she’s doing fine.

Adam Pick: There’s an incredible story I’ve heard about a 24-year old during this mission. Can you tell me about it?

Dr. Ricardo Lazala:  Yes, I’m so excited with you talking about that. This was 24 year old female patient. She got surgery when she was a child and that was a very complex case. We learned about this case after the mission is over. So we are ready to leave. We already have our patients in the ICU. But, Dr. Adams said, “We are staying. We won’t leave. We need to take care of this girl. I cannot leave this patient behind because this patient will die. It’s a very complex case. Nobody can perform that case here in the Dominican Republic. I want to do it.”

The outcome was excellent. It was 100% achievement and this patient will have a wonderful quality of life. This patient went back to her family and take care of her chile. We want to bring the same resources to the most needy in Dominican Republic.


Dr. David Adams at the Mitral Foundation Mission in Dominican Republic


Thanks again to everyone in our global community for supporting this special Mitral Foundation mission in the Dominican Republic!

Keep on tickin!

Written by Adam Pick
- Patient & Website Founder

Adam Pick is a heart valve patient and author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery. In 2006, Adam founded to educate and empower patients. This award-winning website has helped over 10 million people fight heart valve disease. Adam has been featured by the American Heart Association and The Wall Street Journal.

Adam Pick is a heart valve patient and author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery. In 2006, Adam founded to educate and empower patients. This award-winning website has helped over 10 million people fight heart valve disease. Adam has been featured by the American Heart Association and The Wall Street Journal.

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