Heart specialist

U.S. heart specialist treats children in war-torn Libya

Yazan is a one-year-old heart disease patient in Libya. He was born with only one of the usual four chambers, or main parts, of the human heart. His heart pumped so little blood that when Yazan cried his skin turned black. He needed surgery to survive. But Libya has only one doctor who performs such operations on young children.

About 1,200 babies with hearts defaults are born in Libya every year. Usually about 150 of them are in urgent need of heart operations. Most don’t get them and they die within their first year, said William Novick, a pediatric cardiologist from the United States.

“For me, this is just an unacceptable situation that requires our attention,” Novick said.

Novick leads an international team of experts called the Novick Cardiac Alliance. They often travel to Libya to perform operations on patients like Yazan.

Libya has been in a major mess since 2011, when opposition forces overthrew longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi. The armed conflict continues in the country with foreign countries supporting opposing armed groups. The latest fighting started last spring and killed hundreds of civilians.

The conflict has also severely affected health care in the country. The World Health Organization describes the Libyan health system as overloaded, unproductive and lacking in drugs and equipment.

Novick’s team were the best, and possibly the last, hope for Yazan. To seek treatment, however, the boy and his family had to travel to Libya’s most dangerous place, its capital Tripoli.

Last month, Yazan and his family arrived in the city after traveling 1,500 kilometers from their home in the desert. On February 26, Yazan underwent a five-hour operation to begin repairing his heart. It went well. Although Yazan needs additional surgery, Novick and his team expect him to make a full recovery.

Yazan, 1, sits with his mother before her heart surgery at the Tajoura National Cardiology Center in Tripoli, Libya, February 27, 2020.

Novick’s group has treated 1,000 children in Libya since he began treatment there in 2012.

But his Heart Alliance was born much earlier.

Novick was a medical student at the University of Alabama when he first witnessed the suffering of children born with heart disease. He also learned about the problems faced by families trying to get care for their children. He then decided to work to help children with heart problems, no matter where they were born.

For nearly 30 years, Novick and its partners have made hundreds of trips to 32 countries including Ukraine, Nigeria, Iraq, Iran and Colombia.

For the February visit to Libya, Novick’s team included 20 volunteer doctors and nurses. The team carried out 10 difficult open-heart surgeries in the west of the country.

The team worked in areas controlled by each of the two main armed groups.

Novick said one of the main goals of his group was to “be non-partisan and help children.”

Novick’s group is also training Libyan doctors and nurses to develop the country’s health system.

He said, “We’re not going to be here forever and we shouldn’t be here forever.”

I am Jonathan Evans.

Mstyslav Chernov and Felipe Dana reported this story for The Associated Press. Jonathan Evans adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in this story

fault – nm a physical problem that makes something less valuable, effective, healthy, etc.


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