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UK nurses using expertise to help young Egyptian heart patients

UK nurses are providing pioneering treatment to save the lives of some of Egypt’s most vulnerable children, amid the chaotic fallout of country’s revolution.

They come mainly from London hospitals, are NHS trained and use their expertise to educate Egyptian colleagues to work alongside them.

Families often travel hundreds of miles to the ancient southern city of Aswan to the Magdi Yacoub Foundation’s Aswan Heart Centre, which works with the UK charity Chain of Hope.

Because of high demand for their free services, considered the best in the country, two-year-olds undergo high risk cardiovascular operations that UK babies would have within weeks of birth.

The hospital, which opened in 2009, uses Chain of Hope to bring its most complex cases to the Royal Brompton Hospital in Chelsea for treatment before recuperating with UK families.

Many illnesses treated by the team in Aswan, about 150 miles from the Sudan border, are caused by poverty and deprived living conditions, particularly rheumatic fever from damp and over-crowding.

Bernadette Bishop, the centre’s director of nursing, has worked at some of London’s top hospitals, including the Royal London, the Royal Brompton and the Whittington. She leads the UK team, which includes a cardiac advanced nurse practitioner and 30 Egyptian nurses..

Ms Bishop said: “There is nothing else like it in Egypt. This new hospital is state-of-the-art and as good as anything in the [United] States or in Europe.

“Now, I could take my guys and drop into any ICU in London and they would function.

“We have to give something back to the local people, we take patients from all over Egypt but there’s a lot of very sick children here in Aswan,” she said. “You do get emotionally involved, you can’t help that.”

ICU lead nurse Tanya Windram, 31, swapped dealing with “stab wounds and alcoholics” in London accident and emergency departments to work in Aswan.

She said: “I came here on holiday. Then I visited the hospital and didn’t go back so I decided to stay. All of the Egyptian staff are really eager to learn, everything from English to clinical skills.”

The ICU is run by Natasha Pool, a nurse-educator who worked for three and-a-half years as project manager at the Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust in simulated paediatric resuscitation team training.

The charity’s patron is Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub, professor of cardiothoracic surgery at Imperial College, London, and who in 1983 performed the UK’s first heart and lung transplant. Developing cardiac services in a neglected part of his homeland was a dream of Sir Magdi.

He said: “We have three objectives - offering treatment to patients who need it badly, to train young Egyptian doctors and nurses and, very importantly, to perform research.”

Some of the most common conditions include congenital heart disease, valve repairs, and valve replacements.

An international team trains Egyptian colleagues at the hospital to offer a “world class” care.

Cardiologist Ahmed El Guindy was inspired to work with Sir Magdi after he performed life-saving heart surgery on his mother.

He said: “There are 27,000 children born every year with congenital heart defects and the public health service in Egypt is just not there to help them.”

The equipment is state-of-the art and shipped from Europe and the US, including a £500,000 Siemens Cath Lab and a £777,000 Siemens MRI scanner.

But the logistics challenges of getting equipment and drugs to Aswan are huge, were worsened by the uncertainty of the revolution.

  • Chain of Hope needs British hosts to help families when travel when they receive treatment in London. For more information: www.chainofhope.org

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