March 07, 2008
“…one of the best experiences I’ve had in my life, bringing me back to why I went into medicine…”
Mark Jacobs, MD FACC, Portsmouth Regional Hospital’s Chief of Cardiology, traveled last fall to Viedma Hospital in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Dr. Jacobs, traveled as part of a team sponsored by Project Pacer International, a non-profit group committed to providing cardiac services to needy individuals in the developing world.
When Dr. Jacobs, arrived at Viedma Hospital in Cochabamba, Bolivia it was noon. He was taken aback by the endless line of patients waiting at the door, people who had traveled long distances. By 1 p.m., he was at work providing care.
Dr. Jacobs’ focus was pacemakers. He evaluated more than 50 individuals and implanted pacemaker devices in 20 of them. The team’s 18 physicians, nurses, and technicians also performed open heart surgery, implanted cardiac defibrillators and provided medical treatments.
Unlike American cardiac patients who are generally older, heart disease patients in Bolivia can be any age from 30 up. Chagas disease is a common parasitic disease in South America that can lead to cardiac arrhythmias, enlarged hearts and congestive heart failure. “It was striking to see young men walking around with heart rates 30 beats per minute, which should have been between 60 and 100,” Dr. Jacobs says. Children are also often infected with Chagas, although it may take time for serious consequences to emerge. Patients flocked to the team, often planning for the visit weeks in advance. Bolivian physicians had referred many of the patients and the event was publicized in newspapers and via broadcast media. “The staff at the hospital was very helpful and appreciative,” he says.
Dr. Jacobs makes a point of mentioning the generous support he received from PRH president and CEO Bill Schuler; from members of the cardiac catheterization laboratory; and from his practice, Atlantic Cardiology Associates. He says he found it memorable and humbling to be working in a hospital that was modern by third world standards but still relied on materials long considered outdated in the United States, including worn cloth gowns and surgical sheets.
“It was one of the best experiences I’ve had in my life,” he says. “It reminded me of why I went into medicine---no paperwork or insurance issues, just treating and helping patients.”