Mission Possible: Better Treatment for Children with Heart Defects

One brave doctor is on a mission to ensure every child with a heart defect has access to the quality treatment he or she needs to survive and thrive. See how Dr. Nilas Young is using our funding to improve cardiac care for children with heart defects in Russia.

Before and after photos of Dasha, Nikolai, and Roman, three children who received heart surgery from Heart to Heart
Before and after photos of Dasha, Nikolai, and Roman, three Russian children who are now thriving after receiving heart surgery in 2012 from Heart to Heart International Children’s Medical Alliance.

Every 30 seconds, a baby is born with a heart defect.* Most heart defects are treatable; in the United States about 95% of children with heart defects are successfully treated.

In developing countries like Russia, however, finding treatment is significantly more difficult. Few physicians in Russia are trained to perform open heart surgery on children, and many regions lack access to a cardiac care center. This means that most children born with heart defects in Russia never receive treatment, severely limiting their ability to lead long, healthy lives.

Dr. Nilas Young
Dr. Nilas Young and a smiling patient

Fortunately, heroes like Dr. Nilas Young and his team at Heart to Heart International Children’s Medical Alliance are ensuring more children have access to cardiac care. Since 1989, Dr. Young and his team have saved the lives of more than 15,000 children born with a heart defect.

“As a father, I know that nothing in life can be as bad as having a child with a life-threatening illness,” Dr. Young said. “When I meet with parents who are desperate to have the life of their child saved, I know that their trust and faith in me puts me in a unique position to make a real difference in the life of a child and his whole family. It is a privilege and honor to have an opportunity to save someone’s life.”

In 2012, we honored Dr. Young’s work with the World of Children Health Award. At the Awards Ceremony, he received the first $25,000 installment of our 3-year grant to establish an annual fellowship program. The fellowship brings an aspiring pediatric cardiac specialist from Russia to the United States to train at a world-class cardiac center.

This year’s fellowship was awarded to Dr. Gleb Pavlichev, a young pediatric cardiac surgeon from the Tomsk Cardiology Institute in Siberia. Dr. Pavlichev spent nearly four weeks observing advanced procedures at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin and the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. He shadowed specialists in the diagnosis, surgical repair, and post-operative ICU management of children with heart disease. He even had the rare opportunity to participate in a pediatric heart transplant for a four-month-old boy.

Dr. Gleb Pavlichev
Dr. Gleb Pavlichev (left) with Dr. James Tweddell (right), a world-renowned surgeon for newborn cardiac surgery.

“I was able to observe the astonishing coordination of all services and of all people working together in this heart transplant program for the benefit of this one child,” Dr. Pavlichev said.

Dr. Pavlichev will now take his experiences back to his cardiology team in Russia to start the process of offering more advanced treatments for the children there.

“We project that we will have played an instrumental role in developing nationwide access to life-saving heart care for all children in Russia within 10 years,” Dr. Young said. “By 2019, specialists we train will have saved more than 30,000 babies and children!”

But Dr. Young’s mission doesn’t stop with Russia. His vision is global: one day, he hopes that all children — no matter where they are born — will have access to cardiac care.

“We are very excited at the thought of taking our approach to other parts of the world,” Dr. Young said. “Some estimates show that 90% of children on the planet still do not have access to highly treatable childhood heart disease. We would like to try to make a difference for those children.”

This Valentine’s Day, you can help Dr. Young provide life-saving heart surgery for children who need it. Make a donation and mend a broken heart by visiting worldofchildren.org/valentinesday.

*Heart to Heart International Children’s Medical Alliance. heart-2-heart.org

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