Health Team

Project brings heart health to needy in Nicaragua

Posted December 22, 2008 6:22 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:10 p.m. EDT

Ruth Garcia Guardado got heart valve surgery through Project Health for Leone.

— Triangle physicians are celebrating the success this holiday season of an outreach program that brought the gift of life to the people of Nicaragua.

Dr. John Paar, a retired cardiologist, helped start Project Health for Leone to improve the standard of living for Nicaraguans suffering from rheumatic fever.

The illness, the result of untreated strep throat, is common in the Central American nation. Antibodies that try to kill the invading bacteria that causes the fever also attack similar proteins found in heart valves.

Sufferers often need expensive valve-replacement surgery.

Ruth Garcia Guardado's rheumatic fever caused her to tire easily, even after walking only two blocks, she told an interpreter. She could not afford the surgery that would give her the energy she needed.

"Without the surgery, people such as Ruth would have short, miserable lives," Paar said.

Dr. Robert Hunter, a heart surgeon at WakeMed, is among the members of Project Health for Leone. He and an operating team helped Ruth and others.

"God's been very good to me over the years, and I feel it's my obligation to try and give something back to society," he said.

The organization pays for visas and travel costs for patients and finds local host families who provide a place to stay.

Project Health for Leone also helps Nicaraguan doctors get the training and medical equipment that they need.

Ruth treasures the gift Project Health for Leone has given her this holiday season. "Thanks to God and thanks to Dr. Paar," she said.