Prior to surgery, Medjine rarely ate. Here, just days after her operation, she is hungrily eating up her lunch.

On January 30, four Haitian children living with debilitating heart defects travelled nearly 1300 miles to Guatemala City’s UNICAR Hospital (Unidad de Cirugia Cardiovascular de Guatemala, the Cardiovascular Surgery Unit of Guatemala). It is there that the newest patients of PIH’s Right to Health Care program (RTHC) – Rosaica, Marconi, Medjine, and Michelda – will receive livesaving cardiac surgery.

Separated from their homes and Haiti for the first time, the four children and their mothers (or in one case, grandmother) have embarked on a life-changing journey. Over the coming months this makeshift family will support each other as the three girls and one boy undergo complex heart surgeries. To help facilitate a sense of community, the entire group is living in a Ronald McDonald House located just two blocks from the hospital.


Learn a bit more about each of the four children who travelled to Guatemala. Moving clockwise from top left: Medjine, Rosaica, Michelda, and Marconi.

“So far, two of the kids have received successful surgeries. They went well,” said PIH’s Sybill Hyppolite, RTHC’s program coordinator. “Both are in recovery. They’re spending time with their moms, and other children in the hospital, while they get better.”

The other two children will undergo their procedures in the coming weeks.

Each year the RTHC program connects dozens of Haitian children in desperate need of medical care with hospitals in the U.S. and Guatemala. For the past decade, physicians at Guatemala’s UNICAR Hospital have donated their services to RTHC patients suffering from severe, but treatable, heart conditions. 

“We help our patients travel long distances to access one-time, lifesaving interventions that are not yet available in Haiti,” explained Sybill. “When PIH’s Mirebalais Hospital opens in late 2012 we will hopeful be able to provide these cardiac treatments in Haiti. Until then, we will continue to work with outside hospitals like UNICAR to save these kids’ lives.” 

UNICAR Hospital’s unique cardiac surgery program was started in 1997 by Aldo Castaneda, world-renowned cardiologist and former director of surgery at Children’s Hospital Boston. Since then, the facility has performed operations on 2,000 children with congenital cardiac disease.

The resources necessary for these surgeries – everything from hospital rooms to supplies, rehabilitation to food and lodging – were generously donated by UNICAR and the Rotary Club’s Gift Of Life Foundation.

“We are very grateful to be able to work with such generous and kind partners,” said Sybill.