Healthcare & History in the Heartland


Recently, Heart to Heart traveled to the edge of the Great Plains with the University of Kansas Medical Center to operate a health fair during the annual Emancipation Celebration in the historic town of Nicodemus, Kansas.

The whole town of Nicodemus is one of those quintessential American tales of hardship and hard work, westward expansion, newly-found freedom and finding a place to call one’s own and holding onto it.

Nicodemus was settled as a planned town in 1877, 12 years after the US Civil War during the Reconstruction era, by mostly former slaves from Kentucky and Tennessee.  At its peak the town boasted around 800 townsfolk.  Residents had petitioned for the Union Pacific Railroad to lay tracks trough the town, but the railroad dashed those hopes, bypassed the settlement and its long slow decline began.  However, Nicodemus is a National Historic Site, and is the oldest and only remaining all Black Town west of the Mississippi. A couple of dozen people still reside there.

Every year since it’s founding, the town holds an Emancipation Celebration during the last weekend of July to commemorate the end to slavery, the freedmen and women who founded the town and the town’s heritage.  This is a “coming home” celebration, as many descendents from across the nation come home to visit with friends and relatives while commemorating the rich history of Nicodemus.

It’s a purely small town Americana affair with a parade and talent show, even a pancake breakfast made from wheat grown in nearby fields.

But the celebration isn’t just about history, but the future too. A healthy future. And that’s what brought Heart to Heart International out here to work in partnership with KU-MED.

ayesOWtwSxi7JuMpfrIE4A_thumb_172acDuring last years Celebration’s health fair, 19 medical students and 4 HHI volunteers worked out of our Mobile Medical Unit to conduct laboratory tests, health screenings and physicals for 50 people.


Every year Heart to Heart is honored to have been a part of both the past and the present of this rich historic community and to have broadened access to healthcare out on the wide open Plains.



Heart to Heart Hosts Haiti Development Summit

Cascade PichonIt was remarkable really.

Momentous even, that so many representatives for so many different entities chose to come to Cascade Pichon, a place quite literally at the end of the road (picture above), in a far remote corner of Haiti, difficult to reach, to talk development and healthcare with Heart to Heart International… we’re all still a bit stunned that it actually happened. But we’re all very pleased too!

The purpose of the Summit was to jump-start all of the things that have been talked about & planned for this far-flung area of Haiti, to get as many groups and government ministries involved as possible, and to get them to Cascade Pichon.

Woman_1This is one of the areas where Heart to Heart has worked for three years to broaden access to healthcare for the citizens of Haiti. There’s a new Heart to Heart health clinic in Cascade Pichon where residents, seeking care, hike down from the mountains on foot to reach. We recently launched a five-week comprehensive Cholera response to aid and educate from here. And this is where we deploy not just Haitian doctors and nurses, but medical and non-medical volunteers to help us reach our goals.

And this is where dozens of people gathered, Thursday, April 4th, 2013 to talk about the future of healthcare for thousands of residents far off the beaten path in Haiti. It’s worth mentioning the date as we hope it serves as a milestone moment.

Both Heart to Heart and The Federation of Peasants of Pichon hosted the summit where government officials, NGO representatives and local leaders met to chiefly talk sustainable development.
For the Government of Haiti this was a Director level meeting and representatives of several GoH Ministries were on hand: Health, Tourism, Education, Environment, Planification (Economic Development).
And from Heart to Heart International both CEO Krystal Barr and CFO Bud Jeffress were in-country, and joined our Haitian staff of doctors, nurses and executive personnel.

The result from this historic summit? A commitment to improve the road to Cascade Pichon and invest more in the healthcare infrastructure of the area.
It’s not everything that needs to be done, but it’s a start. A good start.


What follows are photos from the Summit. Click any to begin a slideshow.

CDC Foundation Honors Heart to Heart

Heart to Heart is very proud to be recognized for our work to improve health and broaden access to healthcare in Haiti.

CDCF_logoJust this week, the Centers for Disease Control Foundation announced the completion of two new public health buildings in Haiti in partnership with the Haiti Ministry of Public Health and Population (MSPP or Ministère de la Santé Publique et de la Population).

Codio & AwardAt the same event in Port-au-Prince, the CDC Foundation also honored Heart to Heart International for our long term commitment to the country and the people of Haiti.  HHI Haiti staff member Dr. Frantz Codio accepted the award on behalf of everyone at Heart to Heart.

CDC Foundation AwardThe award reads:  With deep gratitude to Heart to Heart International for your commitment to improving the health of the People of the Republic of Haiti – February 25, 2013.

Again, very honored to be recognized in this way.  Many thanks to the CDC Foundation.  Let’s keep up the good work!


“Don’t Cry In Haiti” – A Guest Blog

One fantastic organization that has worked with us hand-in-hand and arm-in-arm in Haiti ever since the earthquake of January 2010, is the American Joint Jewish Distribution Committee, or the JDC as its more commonly referred to.
Not only has the JDC provided material and funding support for our efforts broadening access to healthcare in Haiti, the JDC has also pointed numerous volunteers our way.
What follows is a story recently penned by one of their medical volunteers from London, as she reflects on her time spent working in Haiti following the earthquake, and how the experiences changed her.
It’s a very personal account, quite moving and is written from her heart.

By Vered Schimmel-Lifschitz

Can it really be one year and 10 months since I left Haiti?  Every day, I have been longing to return.  How I wish I could have stayed there longer.  I returned home to a new house in north London, gleaming with bright new paint and filled with cosy soft furnishings. Then came a fun-filled summer holiday with the children in Israel and Greece, followed by our return to London to settle in to my studies and family responsibilities.  Back to real life!  But real life for me, in suburban London, is very different from the real life I left behind in Haiti.  I would go back today if I could – one day I will.  Writing this, I asked myself again and again, what have I given to the Haitian people? Did I help, as much as I could have done? They gave me so much of themselves.



It has been so hard to respond to the simple question asked by friends and family, ‘How was Haiti?’  It is a question I couldn’t answer easily.  But of course I had to, and I found myself sharing photos that captured more vividly than words the chaos, the colour and the human drama of my time there.
Every picture tells a story, and with the story I was again flooded with a passionate desire to return.

There have been other disasters.  Why did this particular disaster have such an exceptional pull on my heart?  Maybe because the people of Haiti have suffered so much already.  Why should they, of all people, be struck by this additional tragedy?


My dearest friend Limor and I seem to have a single mind. We were both fortunate in having supportive families who encouraged our dream of going there to help.  Once everything had been arranged, we found ourselves in Port-au-Prince at the start of a nine-day visit, made possible by two wonderful aid agencies:  the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) — within hours of the earthquake of January 12, 2010, the JDC had raised close to 9-Million dollars for emergency response and rehabilitation — and their partners on the ground Heart to Heart International (HHI).  When we arrived I had no idea where we were going to stay, and I expected a primitive, comfortless standard of living.
The compound we stayed in was so much more than the basics we had expected.  Even in the midst of disaster, we were treated like welcome guests.  We were given the most heart warming welcome by the Heart to Heart team and were introduced to the American doctors, nurses and a paramedic whom we were to get to know so well in the coming days.


It is hard to describe the scenes of desolation we encountered during that time. We seemed to have plunged into the depths of Dante’s Inferno, where the burning sands, the rivers of blood and the howling storm winds torment the souls of the damned.  I am still haunted by the image of tent cities, rows upon rows of primitive dwellings housing huddled families, without any of the comforts we take for granted.




Here, the heat, humidity and relentless rain, pouring over hundreds of thousands of flimsy tents, made every day even worse. It was as if the weather itself was an evil spirit making war against these tragic sufferers.  On our first morning we were driven to our main clinic in Port-au Prince, in a HHI cage truck which had been sponsored by the JDC.  The journey would seemingly have taken 20 minutes, but the poor road conditions had been worsened by rubble and damage from the earthquake and the journey became a bumpy assault course lasting at least one and a half hours.

Downtown in the Bel Air neighbourhood, in a three-story church building, which had miraculously survived the earthquake and overlooked the port and shattered city, we found 200 quiet, stoic patients waiting for us.  Young and old, babies, the sick and injured, many in pain, sat in well organized rows, waiting in a civilised, orderly fashion for medical treatment.

My role was to assist one of the nurses, Marian. She was a true angel, treating the wounded with perfect skill and unfailing compassion, standing for hours at a time every day for a month, in her improvised clinic.  I became used to seeing horrible infections, cuts, blisters and burns. One of our doctors, Vicky, impressed me especially for her cheerful, happy response every time we needed her to deal with the more serious cases. Amongst the wounded, it was mostly lack of hygiene and insufficient medical treatment, which complicated their conditions. They were treated first by the doctors, and were then passed on to our “pharmacy”.

We spent the next day out of the city in Leogane.  This town was at the epicentre of the earthquake and had suffered massive damage.  Everywhere we looked there was nothing to see except piles of rubble lying amongst the wreckage of houses.  For the next few days we held our clinics out in the open in the rural areas, under the mango trees, where canvas screens were fastened to the ruins of the shuttered houses in order to shelter us from sun and rain.  Sometimes we were driven from Leogane to remote villages or mountain districts where the Haitian people were waiting once again for the amazing Heart to Heart organization to come to their aid.

How much good did we do? Was it just a tiny drop in a vast ocean? Is it possible to care for so many sufferers? I knew I would break down at some point because the scale of the human disaster was so overwhelming. To witness destruction on that epic scale, to see so many people displaced, to see so much injury, pain and misery, was simply shattering. You cannot witness such things without being touched and transformed yourself.

One of our patients on my first day in Port-au-Prince was a young woman suffering from a partly open and infected caesarean section. She had walked to our clinic for over an hour in the heat, two days after her C-Section had been performed and botched.  She had no access to any other hospital and had come to us as a last resort.

We treated her as best we could, cleaning the wound and giving her antibiotics, with instructions to come back to see us in three days time. When she returned, the wound was still in poor condition and it was then that we found out that she had lost her baby.  Our interpreter advised her to come back again.  It was when this young woman left us that it really hit me.
I could not hold back my tears any longer. Hurrying through the crowds of patients and team workers, I hastened up the stairs to the damaged open roof area overlooking a vast sea of misery, and sobbed.

Yet my tears were of no use to anyone but myself. Tears were a luxury no one could afford in Haiti. I knew I had to pull myself together and rejoin the others. On the way back I was stopped by George, our dear, kind translator.   Gently he barred my way, asking if I was OK and refusing to let me pass.  “Sure”, I replied, anxious to show that I was fine.  George knew better, and insisted on comforting me and looking directly into my tear-filled eyes he said something I shall never forget: “Don’t cry in Haiti. We must believe in God and be strong and continue in hope and belief.”

So there I was, flooded in tears, being consoled by a young Haitian whose whole world lay shattered in ruins around him. George taught me a valuable lesson, to get my act together, offer all I had and continue to give whatever I could.

Back at home, surrounded by the dull London weather and the home comforts we take for granted, the memory of my two weeks in Haiti refuses to fade. Having seen the devastation and misery first hand, is it not our obligation to do so much more to help? Of course I recognise that there are so many other poor and devastated countries around the world but Haiti is a place where we could not only give temporary relief, but also make long-term changes. We could give the Haitian people opportunities, steps towards a better future, for them and their children.


Assessment Team in Guatemala… Part III

Our joint Heart to Heart & Welch Allyn Assessment Team continues to report from Guatemala, as they search out ways to broaden access to healthcare.
Today, we have some guest bloggers — the team from Welch Allyn. Here are some of their thoughts and photos from the ongoing trip.

Welch Allyn Team: We had a long day in the southern area of Guatemala working with doctors and medical students. Their passion and commitment is contagious.  We came home in a driving rain storm through some mountains with poor roads which made the trip even more, shall we say… interesting!

The next day we spent time at two very different hospitals in Antigua, Guatemala. We were hosted by The Order of Malta, a charitable organization. The first hospital we visited was Hermano Pedro Obras Sociales—a Catholic, private hospital run by the Franciscans. They have approximately 350 beds and also see another 300 people per day for basic clinical, nutritional and clothing needs. Check out the amount of people waiting to be seen by a clinician.

The staff at Hermano Pedro Obras Sociales was very professional and their funding is provided by private donations. The surgeons who provide care at the hospital are all volunteers from the United States and Canada. They typically bring teams of clinicians with them as well as their own equipment.  Most of the monitors and surgical instruments were very dated. They did have an internal computer system where they stored medical records. As you might imagine connectivity and true electronic medical records are not in place. Welch Allyn provides equipment through Heart To Heart and patients are simply asked to pay whatever they can afford for the care.

Our next stop was a government run hospital called The National Hospital of Antigua which serves all types of patients. They see approximately 6000 patients per month and are cash strapped. They had one vital sign monitor for a large emergency room and one EKG for the hospital. This facility was also a teaching hospital.




They don’t have a lot of technology or equipment because they don’t have the biomeds to repair equipment. The needs are great, as you might expect, and if not for organizations like The Order of Malta and Heart to Heart, they would be hard pressed to survive. Take a look at an ambulance at the National Hospital.  The amazing thing about the healthcare professionals at both facilities is that they are consummate professionals who do their best to help patients. They care deeply about their jobs and for the people they care for. They do not complain and are grateful for our interest and for the solutions we provide. They share everything, including training, and any medical device is received with incredible gratitude and respect.

There is a special spirit throughout Guatemala that has something to do with the Mayan culture and the melting pot of ethnicities that seek to find a way to collaborate and help each other. This spirit of community has energized all of us!

Tomorrow we travel to San Andres Itzapa to a convent that provides healthcare and recently installed Welch Allyn equipment.

Until then… ¡Que tengas un dia magnifico!

Matt Chadderdon
David Allyn
Danielle Gillmore
Sue Mangicaro

Assessment Team in Guatemala… Part II

Our joint Heart to Heart & Welch Allyn Assessment Team continues to travel in Guatemala, exploring ways to broaden access to healthcare.
More now from Ginny Stehle, Heart to Heart’s Corporate Relations Director, with more thoughts and photos from the ongoing assessment trip. Part I is here. Remember to click the photos for full size.

June 5/6, 2012
Guatemala City & Antigua

Ginny:  The team returned to Camino Seguro in Guatemala City to work as volunteers for the day.  We began at the main school building where we assisted with a high school English class. We sat and carried on a conversation with one or more teenagers, ages 16-18, to help them improve their English skills.  A young teacher from the UK named Grant, gave us some assistance to get the conversations going. It was challenging to find questions that would get them to talk. They are just like young people everywhere! They have hopes and dreams, they struggle with understanding what they want to do with their lives, they experience peer pressure and want to appear as though they fit in.  They were polite and cooperative.





Our next stop was the Planting Seeds preschool and we arrived just in time for recess.  The children were released to the playground for this period to have free play.  There were about 90 children between the ages of three and six. What a hoot!  The Welch Allyn team members were assigned to assist the teachers with supervising and playing with the children. The team members jumped right in and it was very difficult to tell who enjoyed the one on one interaction more–the children or the volunteers.  It was interesting to see that these children were already speaking some English to the volunteers more easily than the older children who did not have access to this program prior to high school.

Two lovely Guatemalan women, Isa and Martha, were already very busy in the kitchen when I arrived. I was assigned to drying platos (plates), and watched as Martha expertly began to mix Masa Harina with water to make tortillas. Isa added ingredients to  a huge pot on the stove to make  a sort of pudding with an iron and vitamin fortified mix for the afternoon snack.  I was thrilled when they agreed to teach me how to make tortillas, and must confess that mine were not pretty.  Isa has three children in this program and was so grateful to be a part of it all.   In the program, children are fed breakfast, lunch and a snack to take home every day.

We also brought some brand new medical equipment for the clinic and Dave from Welch Allyn took a few minutes to teach the clinic nurse how to use the Macroview Otoscope, and the PanOptic Ophthalmoscope.  She learned very quickly and was surprised at how much more she could see with these new instruments.  She quietly replied, “Muchas gracias, we do not have technology like this in Guatemala. This will help us very much.”   Her sincerity was touching.
I concur. ¡Muchas Gracias Welch Allyn!  Thank you also to Camino Seguro for all that you do transform lives for these families, and all that you have done to transform us through such meaningful service.  Heart to Heart International is excited about the possibilities of working together in the future.

We next travel to a small village to join a medical team of US medical students and physicians.  They already have a Heart to Heart Ready Relief Box™! We’ll deliver more equipment, conduct some instrument training to the students and assist with the medical clinic.


Assessment Team in Guatemala…

Part of our mission here at Heart to Heart International is to broaden access to healthcare for those in need, here in the US and around the globe.  Currently, we have a team comprised of Heart to Heart staff and representatives from Welch Allyn, a HHI global partner, in Guatemala accessing those needs and exploring ways to broaden that healthcare access by joining with local, in-country partners.
Here now, Ginny Stehle, Heart to Heart’s Corporate Relations Director, with some thoughts and photos from the ongoing assessment trip.

From Antigua, Guatemala
June 4, 2012
Ginny: Today we are working with an organization named Camino Seguro.  We began our day in their Antigua office, where we watched a short but powerful video and prepared for the day ahead.  We then drove to Guatemala City to began our tour at the public cemetery which provided an overlook of the city garbage dump, one mile below where we stood.

We watched a parade of trucks enter the chasm from the left, dumping their contents on the floor beneath us. Backhoes moved the heaps of trash around, and many people, who looked like ants, scavenged the piles of trash, loading items into large bags on their backs. Vultures circle overhead.  Our guide, Leigh Ellen told us that this dump supports the local zone economy and employs about 3000 people who buy annual permits to do their work. They walk 1 mile to get to the dumping area from the entrance to the grounds, and they have to carry their treasures out via the same route. They earn approximately $3 per day for their labors. Today, only those 14 and older can enter the dump. Before a huge methane fire in 2007, children were allowed to scavenge there as well as the adults.

We made our way to Camino Seguro’s main school, which has morning and afternoon programs for younger and older children. We stopped in the cafeteria to have a hot lunch of stir fry beef, vegetables and rice with the children.  The meals are nutritionally balanced and clean, purified water is offered at every meal to encourage the children to stay away from sodas and sugary drinks. This is an after/before school program intended to keep the kids off the streets and supplement the local public school education. The programs cover a lot: teaching the kids skill to carry into life, as well as providing nutrition, hygiene, healthcare, mental health, artistic expression and lots of positive role models. Amazing programs!! Amazing people.

A young American woman named Hanley Denning founded the program to get the children out of the dump. Her vision was to give them someplace safe to go, to raise their self esteem, give them love, nutrition, education, and so much more to enrich their lives and show them a way out of this life.
The name Camino Seguro means Safe Passage, the way out. Denning died in an auto accident in 2007, but the program has carried on and expanded with dedicated staff and volunteers. The current Executive Director knew Hanley, came as a volunteer and got hooked. His wife now heads the educational curriculum.  Hanley’s spirit is evident everywhere. It is amazing what this young woman started out with, and where it is today.  It’s nothing short of miraculous.

The program started with 40 children in a small church building in 1999, and now has more than 600 children in the program between ages of 4 and 18 and three facilities in the areas surrounding the dump in Guatemala City. The children’s families are also part of the program, and benefit by its services. What has grown in this place is just amazing!!




Our Heart to Heart & Welch Allyn team toured and learned quite a lot today.  We met the Executive Director, the Physician and Nurse, delivered some new donated Welch Allyn medical equipment for their clinic, listened to what they needed in their clinics, and participated in a health education class with the 4th grade students. Today’s lesson was about not smoking. It was great fun to interact with the children.

Tomorrow we’ll return to the same location and get to work as volunteers. It should be interesting!