Flying Across the Globe to Help

Nurses Heart to Heart Takes Help, Healing Where Most Needed.

Recently, we had a chance to catch up with Anita Rich, an RN at Emory St. John’s and the founder of Nurses Heart to Heart, a dynamic organization that provides essential training to medical personnel in Mongolia.

Pulse: Tell our readers about Nurses Heart to Heart. How long has it been in existence? What is the scope of the work?

Rich: I founded Nurses Heart to Heart as a non-profit in 2010.

I arrange all of the trips to Mongolia each year with a Mongolian pediatric cardiologist. We typically visit two or three provinces and then she contacts the Ministry of Health and coordinates all of the meetings with them and with the Department of Health, the local clinics or hospitals. There is much “red tape” and she gets it all done.

My initial goal was to visit each province in Mongolia to teach CPR to nurses and to give the gift of two sets of CPR manikins – 2 baby, 2 child, and 2 adult – to each province so the students I teach that day can become the CPR instructors for their hospital or health department. I believe there are 18 provinces. We have been to all except 5, and we have taught in the capital city of Ulaan Bataar many times.

So far, Nurses Heart to Heart RNs have taught for 6 years. Our first trip was in 2011. We plan to visit the 3 most northern provinces next year and then the last two the next year.

We are also in the process of determining what is most needed to be taught next. Then we’ll start all over again visiting these wonderful places. When we get home from one trip, we begin right away to raise money for the next year’s trip. The volunteer nurses pay their own way to Mongolia. My non-profit covers all in-country expenses, including the flights in Mongolia, hotels and meals for the US/Mongolian team, our translator, and of course, the manikins, which we bring in our suitcases from Atlanta.

As far as scope of the work, I think at last count we have taught 1,300 or so Mongolian RNs and some MDs and Midwives. We have donated 18 manikins and extra supplies for them each year for 5 years and we donated 20 manikins this past May. So, that adds up to 110 CPR manikins total - about $35,000 worth.

We also donate all sizes of ambu-bags and they are thrilled to get them, too. This is such a critical part of the program because most of the RNs and MDs have heard lectures perhaps, but most tell us they have never seen or touched a CPR manikin. The cost is prohibitive for them. We all just get on the floor with the three Mongolian nurses that have joined our team and the translator and provide as much hands-on instruction as they want. It’s really great fun! And they appreciate it so very much.

I also coordinate the trip with Blue Sky Aviation (Mission Aviation Fellowship) to schedule flights to the different provinces.

We have the great fun of flying in a 9-seat Cessna Caravan all over that beautiful country. The pilot and co-pilot also join in our classes and help teach or help take photos. Blue Sky Aviation is the only medivac plane in the country. We have trained their entire staff in CPR. We charter the plane for the week with the understanding that if we are in a town and the pilot gets a call for a medivac, he and the co-pilot will leave us, do their medivac and then come pick us back up.

When we fly out to the different provinces we have the weight of the 20 manikins. When we return to Ulaan Bataar, we usually have one extra seat as well as the extra weight allowance because the manikins have all been given away. This makes it possible for Nurses Heart to Heart to fly a patient and family member at no cost to them from the remote hospital to more advanced care in one of the hospitals in the capital city, Ulaan Bataar.

When we land, an ambulance is waiting on the tarmac and the patient and family member are taken to the hospital. Over the years we have been able to bring back several patients, including some with hip fractures, once a child with a significant head injury, and a gentleman after a heart attack to the only cardiac cath lab in the country.

It would have taken these patients probably 20+ hours over very bumpy or non-existent roads, typically in old Russian vans, to reach this level of medical care. We are able to donate this service to them. It is very graciously received.

We all volunteer our time. Typically, two other RNs from the US join me each year; on the latest trip, Mariana Botha, RN (a colleague at EJCH) and Tanya Owens, RN, Certified Nurse Midwife came along.

We are also joined by three Mongolian nurses who have traveled with us for the last 4 years. We have a translator as well. She and her family have become such dear friends. I couldn’t imagine ever doing this without her!

Pulse: What time of year do you make these trips?

Rich: The trip takes place each May. We are in-country for about a week. Depending on the size of the hospital or health department we may teach in one province for two days. Otherwise, we teach one full day, two sessions a day.

Other local medical personnel are the three RNs from Ulaan Bataar. Two I have known since 2008 on my first trip to Mongolia with another team.

Pulse: We understand that you’ve also made several trips to Iraq. Please share with our readers the purpose of those trips. What did you accomplish while you were there? What is the state of healthcare there and how vital is your work?

Rich: I have travelled to Iraq three times. I volunteered with another organization, For Hearts and Souls in 2008, 2015, and my latest trip was in January 2016.

They care for children with congenital heart defects through cardiac echo screening, cardiac catheterizations that are diagnostic, as well as interventional, and take teams to complete surgical repair on some of the children in Iraq, teaching each member of the medical, nursing and surgical teams.

We usually stay for about a week. We are hosted by the Department of Health, and Kurdistan Save the Children. We do work with other local organizations there as well. I would say we accomplished many, many things - not the least of which is giving new life to a child through corrective surgery or through a repair with a device in the cath lab.

Perhaps the greatest accomplishment is showing our genuine care and concern for the children, no matter what their ethnic or religious background.

(We show) genuine love and compassion to people who have been displaced by war or injured by war in unspeakable ways. Watching all of the differences fade away as the only concern of the adults is the survival of these children is so rewarding; these impressions are seared in my heart and in my mind. You don’t need a translator to communicate genuine care and concern and to be received. I actually had a young adult patient give me the shoes off of her feet because I complimented them. Literally. She insisted.

The state of healthcare is devastated by war. Some staff members have not been paid in years, but they come back each day to care for others. Such dedication. I feel our work is vital, absolutely vital. For me, it is not just about the medical interventions and care. It is the communication to the nursing staff that what they are doing is critical, is important, is life-changing, is life-giving. It is an honor to partner with them. It is quite humbling, actually.

It is overwhelming to see the refugee camps and realize that for many, this will be where they grow up. I admit it is a little scary to get there, but once you realize the difference you can make, it is compelling to go. It’s an easy gift to give and my heart is rewarded in so many ways.

Pulse: Are there any trips in your future?

Rich: Absolutely! We plan to make at least one trip per year to Mongolia. We have been told there is a great need for further education for nurses and midwives in the area of labor and delivery, and premature infant care. Two of the manikins we donated this year were premature infant (24 week) to the only hospital in the entire country for high risk pregnancies and deliveries and the only NICU in the country. These manikins will help them learn and teach how to resuscitate premature infants.

I also hope to make at least one trip per year back to Iraq. The need is so great there, not only in the hospitals, but also in the medical clinics at the refugee camps. When I asked the Director of one of the clinics there what did she consider the greatest need for her clinic, she said (they need) education for the nurses and others that care for the refugees.

Pulse: Any final thoughts, important take-always, or observations about your travel and this critical work?

Rich: In life there are so many times that we can’t fix the situation, but if we look closely for a moment, we can see many opportunities to make it better and to be able to act on those ideas and opportunities is a sacred gift.

Even in scripture, at one point God asked Moses what was in his hand. Moses said it was only a stick, but God used it to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and slavery. I heard a speaker once ask our group, “What is in your hand?” Then she implored us to use it.

That’s an infinitely more important question than the one asked by the credit card ad, “What’s in your wallet?”

Nurses have the same desire, no matter the language. They want the best care for their patients and families. I recognized this on my first trip to Mongolia in 2008 and that’s why I named my organization “Nurses Heart to Heart.” The tagline is “Sharing knowledge and hope.” We have so much experience here. I had the honor of graduating from the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing at Emory University. I’ve been a nurse for 35 years. It is a great joy to share what I know and to learn from the nurses in Iraq and Mongolia as well. We have so much to teach each other.

I am a mom of two children and a grandmother to two grandsons. That same love is recognized in the families I have met there. When I tell a parent or grandparent that I will take care of their child or grandchild as if they were my own, I mean it. And they recognize that.

I can only hope in some small way to share my heart with these precious people of all these different backgrounds. All in one room we are Sunni, Shia, Yazidi, Syrian and Christian. Many children are given surgical care in a Jewish hospital in Israel. It’s such a beautiful experience to share.

For more information on Nurses Heart to Heart, or to get involved, visit: www.nhth.org