Heart to Heart with Lydia Corriveau – Part 1

Written by admin on May 26, 2015 in - No Comments


            In late winter, Lydia Corriveau flew to Rwanda for two weeks and volunteered as a post-operative nurse with an organization called Team Heart. During the two weeks, the team conducted heart valve replacement surgeries on young adults who had suffered cardiac damage from untreated cases of strep throat. I wanted to hear more about her trip and asked her to share some of her experiences with me. – Abigail Carroll

Safari in Rwanda












Abby: Tell me a little more about the medical team you served with and what you learned from being a part of the team.

Lydia: Team Heart is based out of Boston, but the team this year had volunteers from nine different states. We were able to provide 16 individuals with single, double, and triple heart valve replacements/repairs depending on the needs of the patient. I did not witness the selection process because I arrived after this had taken place, but I think that this would be the most important and daunting part of this project because the cardiologists and surgeons must decide which few to select out of the many in need.

Abby: What did a typical day look like for you?

Lydia: In a typical shift, I worked with 1–3 volunteer nurses and 2 local nurses from King Faisal Hospital, who helped us in helping provide care to our patients, most of whom did not speak English. Caring for someone whose language you do not speak is a unique experience. These nurses helped us assess patients, administer medication, and simply have conversations. We also monitored patients’ vital signs, lab values, pain management, and overall surgical recovery. The hospital ward contained 10 beds in a single room, with mosquito nets overhanging each bed (This is Africa!).

It is an adjustment to function in an environment where the equipment and resources you are accustomed to having on hand are not available. It really takes you back to the basics of your nursing practice. Working in this kind of environment can be challenging, but it is also refreshing and liberating.

Abby: Is there a patient who stands out to you whom you’ll remember?

Lydia: There were these two patients, Diane and Lilianne, who ended up next to each other in the ward. At first, they both had too much pain to notice the other, but as they were recovering and their conditions improved, they became best friends. They were so cute, sharing everything from meal times and bed space, and they laughed all the time together. I loved watching them because it felt like years had been lifted from their lives, and they could be young together again. There is something so wonderful about meeting another person who understands your hardship, who makes you feel known. Diane and Lilianne connected in such a beautiful way. For once, they were not alone in their rheumatic heart disease.

Finding Healing and Joy in Rwanda

“There is something so wonderful about meeting another person who understands your hardship, who makes you feel known.”

Abby: I imagine that you learned a lot on your trip.

Lydia: Honestly, I did not know that much about rheumatic heart disease before this trip because it has been virtually eliminated in the U.S. As I learned about the disease, I came to understand the relatively simple solution—treat strep throat with penicillin—as well as the complexity of the problem: primary care and urgent care are not as accessible in rural portions of the country, and many people go to traditional healers. Team Heart is working to provide education about rheumatic heart disease and the importance of treating it with penicillin.

I also learned how complicated it is to bring this form of healthcare to a place that does not have the resources to provide open heart surgery on its own. Patients are medication-dependent for the rest of their lives, and we send them back to their communities with the daunting task of managing a very complex health condition. I have much respect for the national staff employees who manage these cases once Team Heart volunteers have returned home.

Abby: What was it like to come back to Vermont and return to work after your time in Rwanda?

Lydia: It was such a wonderful change to practice nursing in Rwanda. I am always thankful for the new perspective you gain when you see other parts of the world. It reminds me of what I am thankful for both in Rwanda and in Vermont, and it challenges me to make the best use of my time.

Now that I’m back, I miss being able to take Frisbee breaks in warm, sunny weather during my nursing shift in the name of “providing our patients with some entertainment”—especially when walking on the grass is illegal, and so you must play on the hospital’s helicopter landing pad. That was pretty amazing.

Stay tuned for Part II…

Lydia and Lilianne

Lydia and Lilianne