Since 1969 Children's HeartLink has been dedicated to the prevention and treatment of heart disease in the developing world. Started during the Vietnam War, Children's HeartLink has evolved through the years in an effort to have the greatest impact on children with congenital heart disease. In the beginning, three Vietnamese children were sent by Dr. Frank Johnson Jr., a Navy medic in Vietnam, to his father, Dr. Frank Johnson, and Dr. Johnson's partner, Dr. Joseph Kiser, both cardiovascular surgeons on the staff of Swedish Hospital in Minneapolis. The hospital had agreed to provide the care free of charge. The children returned to Vietnam five months later, and a new program was started. It was called Children's Heart Fund. By the end of the war in 1975, Dr. Joseph Kiser had assisted 67 children who traveled to Minneapolis for treatment. Between 1969 and 1993, 642 children from 23 countries received treatment through this program.
In the early 1990s Children's HeartLink changed its approach in an effort to reach more children. Instead of continuing to bring children to the U.S. for treatment, Children's HeartLink focused on assisting existing cardiac programs, helping them improve the quality and quantity of their services. This new commitment involved assisting cardiac programs with on- and off-site education, technical assistance and donated medical volunteer hours, funding, medical supplies and equipment.
Children's HeartLink considers providing assistance to a partner site in any area that would positively impact cardiac services for children from prevention services to tertiary care. This has led Children's HeartLink to provide assistance in a wide variety of cardiac program components ranging from the implementation of rheumatic fever prevention programs to support services like infection control programs, blood bank management and continuing education programs for ICU nurses. In providing assistance to a partner site, Children's HeartLink tries to be sensitive to resources available, overall needs and what level of services are already provided. The goal is to help the site advance at a pace that is achievable and sustainable.
Education and Resources
Children's HeartLink has evolved from measuring its success in terms of the number of children treated to a focus on infrastructure, quality and sustainability of existing cardiac programs. Technical assistance and education is the most important assistance Children's HeartLink can offer to its partner sites. The provision of resources (funding for treatment expenses and critical medical supplies) is also important. Children's HeartLink provides partial funding for some children treated during cardiac training visits in order to assure that most cases will be considered regardless of their ability to pay. Furthermore, Children's HeartLink encourages sites to consider establishing a charitable foundation to help needy families. Such a commitment helps defray some of the costs and adds to future program accessibility for patients and families that cannot afford treatment.
We work in concert with our dedicated medical volunteers, as well as governments and other organizations, to provide training, mentoring and capacity building opportunities designed to meet the unique needs of each partner hospital.