Some people use their vacation time to relax on the beach or see the sights at exotic locales. Cardiology nurse Anita Rich travels all over the world sharing her skills and serving others.
“I love adventure and I’ll go anywhere. I was an Army brat growing up,” said Rich, the discharge advocate for heart failure patients at Emory Johns Creek Hospital. “The heirloom I’ll be passing on to my family will be my passport with all its extra visa pages.”
But not before she’s finished with it. Next spring, Rich, BSN, RN, PCCN, will be making a third trip to Mongolia to educate nurses and bring hope to remote villages there. She’ll be traveling with other volunteer nurses and disassembled mannequins in her suitcase.
“It’s always interesting at the airport,” she said.
In 2010, Rich founded Nurses Heart to Heart (www.nhth.org), an Alpharetta-based nonprofit dedicated to teaching CPR and other advanced nursing skills in developing countries. Rich, who has been a nurse for more than 30 years, will never forget the woman who inspired the formation of Nurses Heart to Heart. Three years ago, Rich was in Mongolia working with For Hearts and Souls, a medical missionary organization that takes physicians and nurses to developing countries, finds children with congenital heart disease and teaches local doctors and nurses how to perform lifesaving surgeries.
“We were teaching airway management at the Third Hospital in Ulaanbaatar [the country’s capital],” Rich said. “One nurse leaned over the mannequin we had brought, made a fist and started pumping it up and down. The interpreter said, 'She wants to know if you can teach them how to pump the chest.’ ”
Rich was amazed that nurses in Mongolia didn’t know how to perform CPR, a simple procedure that she took for granted.
“Yes, I could do that,” she thought. “I wouldn’t need a big team to do it. I could just pack a bag, get on an airplane and go.”
CPR was invented 50 years ago and for a long time only physicians did it, Rich said. “It isn’t rocket science, but it can make such a difference. Every day in a U.S. hospital, someone’s heart stops beating, a nurse does CPR, calls a 'code,’ the room is filled with doctors and nurses, and the patient lives. But that doesn’t happen everywhere.”
Through Nurses Heart to Heart, Rich raises money to send and supply the volunteer nurses who teach CPR in Mongolia. So far, the organization has trained more than 400 nurses in Mongolia.
One Mongolian nurse told Rich that after learning CPR, she went back to her remote province and taught it to every member of her staff.
“I’d like to go to a different province each year, and send nursing teams to other countries,” Rich said.
Rich began sharing her nursing skills abroad about 15 years ago, when she went on a church medical mission to Nicaragua. She took the trip thinking it would be good for her teenage son to see another part of the world.
“He was moved by the poverty, but I was the one who was changed,” Rich said. “You couldn’t help but be changed. People walked barefoot from their villages and stood in line overnight to visit the clinic. We saw 800 patients a day.”
She also has gone on mission trips to Romania and Iraq.
In 2007, Rich was wondering what she’d do with herself when her daughter left for college. She volunteered to work as a nurse transporter for the Children’s Heart Project/Samaritan’s Purse. The group screens children from all over the world for congenital heart defects and transports them to U.S. hospitals that donate surgical services. Her first trip was to pick up an 18-month-old baby and his mother in Kosovo and fly them to Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis.
She has since traveled to Honduras, Uganda and China to pick up sick patients and transport them for medical care. Her greatest challenge was getting seven children and their mothers from Mongolia to a hospital in San Antonio.
“You can’t imagine the paperwork involved. Mongolian children’s first names are just about a whole alphabet, and their last, the whole alphabet in a different order — and they have different last names than their mothers. We called them the San Antonio Seven and we could have made a movie about getting them all through Chinese security,” Rich said.
Although the experience is often challenging for nurse transporters, it can be terrifying for patients and their families.
“It’s like telling a parent, 'I know your daughter is sick. Here are some strangers to save her life. All you have to do is get on a space ship and fly to the moon,’ ” she said. “Everyone comes to the airport to say goodbye. It’s always very emotional.”
Her travels have taught Rich that no matter what country or culture she encounters, nurses share a common bond .
“It’s phenomenal to sit across the table from nurses in other countries, to be able to look right into their hearts and see my own,” she said. “The heart of nursing is being a patient advocate. You want to know as much as you can to help them, but it all boils down to caring.”