Riley team goes overseas to mend broken hearts




Dr. Mark Turrentine leads his 35th trip to Amman, Jordan to care for seriously ill children.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer,

Pediatric specialists from Riley Children’s Health worked their magic overseas again this month, operating on a dozen children in Amman, Jordan.

The medical team, led by Riley heart surgeon Dr. Mark Turrentine, donates its time to help children from Jordan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen who have little access to specialized cardiology care.

This month, the team celebrated “Mission No. 35,” representing 400 surgeries and 200 cardiac catheterization procedures since the medical mission trips began in 2007.

Missions also help train teams of specialists in Jordan to build expertise in the medical community there.

Joining Dr. Turrentine on this month’s mission were Dr. Anne Farrell, cardiology; Dr. Ali Wail, ICU; Dr. Riad Lutfi, ICU; Sheila Rocchio, CVICU nurse; Rachal Sperka, CVICU nurse; and Michael Horner, perfusionist.

Dr. T has mended many a broken heart during his three decades at Riley, but he would just as soon fly under the radar than be in the spotlight.

For him, these trips are about giving hope to parents who might otherwise have none.

“It’s pretty meaningful to see something good happen for families that are fairly desperate to have something good happen to them,” he said during a previous interview.

Kids like Lavi (pictured with Dr. Farrell), Joud (seen with Dr. T) and Aws (with Dr. Lutfi) are the lucky ones. Despite being born with serious heart defects, they now have a second chance at life.

“I would say of the kids we’ve operated on over there, I don’t know if it would be an overstatement that maybe 80% or 90% of them might not have gotten care if teams like this weren’t going over there,” the surgeon said.

“I’m just always very proud to travel with the Heart Center team,” he said after a previous trip. “No one could imagine how hard they work and the passion they have for it.”

Gift of Life Amman hosted a dinner to thank the team and others who have supported the medical missions over the years. Special guests included four former patients who returned to thank those who gave them back their lives.

Funding partners Rotary Club/Gift of Life Greenfield, the Josh Lindblom Foundation (significant Riley Children's Foundation donor) and Chain of Hope London continue to make the lifesaving missions possible.