A Thanksgiving gift – across the world

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A small team of Riley physicians give up their holiday to make a big impact on children’s lives.


By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

As most Americans prepare to sit down with family and friends for Thanksgiving dinner Thursday, a team of Riley Hospital for Children medical providers will be 6,000 miles away, making miracles happen.

The five team members – cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Mark Turrentine, cardiologist Dr. Anne Farrell, intensive care specialist Dr. Riad Lutfi, ICU nurse and nurse practitioner Melissa Redden, and family physician and Rotarian team leader Dr. Stephanie Kinnaman – left last week for a medical mission trip to Amman, Jordan, the 28th Riley trip to the region.

“We join so many wonderful professionals at Al Khalidi Medical Hospital once again to help more children who desperately need assistance with their congenital heart disease,” Dr. Kinnaman wrote in the Riley International Heart Missions blog.

A cardiologist at Al Khalidi screened children with various heart disorders for possible surgery and proposed 20 potential patients. Unfortunately, the Riley team has only four operating days on this trip, so the list of children to be treated had to be shortened.

That’s always the hardest part, Dr. Turrentine said in an earlier interview. “All these kids would get operated on if they were in the States.”

Many of the young heart patients seen during the mission live in refugee camps. Ten-month-old Miriam, who has Down syndrome, has lived with her parents and three siblings in a camp in Jordan her entire life. She came to the team this week with a persistent cough and no weight gain for the past two to three months.

Doctors diagnosed her with a large ventricular septal defect, which they repaired, and by the next day, she was blowing kisses to the team.

Gift of Life Amman and Chain of Hope again are helping to support the trip financially. The team members, who donate their time, will be working through Thanksgiving.

Asked what they might eat on Thanksgiving, Dr. Farrell said, “probably turkey and traditional Middle Eastern food.”

Everyone has a job on these medical missions. Some, like Dr. Farrell, have many.

“She is most certainly the jack of all trades this mission,” Dr. Kinnaman said of her colleague.

“Dr. Anne scrubbed in for (Hasan’s) case, assisting Dr. Turrentine in repairing a 7-month-old’s ventricular septal defect. “She is needed in every facet – teaching about the defects and surgical repair to our special guests, she echos, she blogs, she sees clinic patients, she warmly welcomes and puts at ease the patients and families.”

Also putting them at ease is Dr. Lutfi, a native of Syria who traveled back to the region with his wife, Melissa. He not only brings his medical expertise on the trip, he understands the culture and speaks the language, bringing comfort during a stressful time.

Between cases, a former patient who was treated during a similar mission five years ago, came to visit Dr. Turrentine. Salma is in her sixth year of school and is doing well.

Seeing her is a reminder of why he and the others keep returning.

“I know that 80 to 90 percent of these kids will never get to surgery if we don’t take a team there.”

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