“An universal chance to help and simultaneously to deeper understand the world”
Interview with Mrs. Eva Sedláčková
— Czech intensive medicine doctor who volunteers to help in resolving complex inborn heart defects
Doctor of cardiac surgery department of Krajská zdravotní a.s. (Regional health) of Masaryk hospital in Ústí nad Labem Mudr Eva Sedláčková has recently returned from a mission to Nairobi. It was already her fifth foreign tour to help children with heart disease.
Another essential aspect is the relevant skills training being shared with the local doctors, nurses, and hospital management. “That is the main road to these surgeries being available to everyone needing them in the future. And last but not least, contacts, sharing knowledge of ways of life, understanding the differences, and realizing they are not that great, that is awesome. That is the case of distance adoptions too — one can certainly say, that one child goes to school and thousands of others don’t. It changes the fate of one individual child, which isn’t irrelevant. That one with their career will influence the lives maybe of the whole community. It is still hoped for others, that it will be their turn one day, that world isn’t a place of indifference, where nothing matters.”, the doctor explains.
How many missions did you take part in and where?
I started the tours in 2018. The first one was to India, in Andhra Hospital in Vijayawada city. The following one to Mater Hospital in Kenyan Nairobi. In November 2019 to India again, this time to Sri Sathya Sai Hospital in Bangalore. In December Mater Hospital in Nairobi again. The next mission planned for March, to Nairobi, had to be canceled due to the pandemic outbreak. Thanks to the great effort of the organizers, this time the NUSCH Bratislava together with Slovak Aid the mission did happen between 27th November and 7th December 2021. All these missions are charity projects, where the doctors and nurses work free of charge and the travel costs are carried by the organizers.
What was your motivation for the first trip?
The first thought is from early childhood. I have read about Dr Albert Schweitzer’ Lambarene expedition in Afrika, about Axela Munthe’s work at Capri, about the research of Marie Curie Sklodowska. I always loved traveling, but not as a tourist. I was seeking contacts, friends, activities, to experience the land, to understand… And the work of a medical doctor is a universal chance to help and simultaneously to deeper understand the world. As soon as, the fall of the communist regime, the borders opened, by which time I was working as a doctor already for three years, I sent my CV to various volunteer organizations. And in 1990, out of the blue, an offer came to work for UNO at a deserted atoll in the Maldives. I didn’t waste a moment, accepted the year-long contract, and went. I set aside my plans to continue for 20 years to dedicate myself to my family with a clear vision, that as soon as my fourth child agrees, I shall immediately set out for new opportunities. I was working for some time in a pediatric cardio center in Motol, which was just a step away from contact with their mission program. I have offered my services and that’s how my first journey took off. An added important motivation is the fact, that I have got via the distance adoption program a “kid” in Nairobi, now already a thirteen-year-old Marion, with whom I can be in a very personal contact in this way.
Where was it working the best? Where have they needed you the most and on the opposite, where did it not work at all? Where are you afraid somewhere?
I think my last three destinations were working in a very similar way. Hospitals where children with an inborn heart defect can be operated, upon have to have a certain standard and device resources, there has to be a good local cardiologist, and also a particular system of care for child patients. The presence of all these is being established in advance and all places have previous experience with the program of the missions, specialist teams also from other countries come there. I wasn’t afraid anywhere, but I was really scared, that Omicron would cancel our flights and we would get stuck in quarantine somewhere.
How long do such missions take? And how does it run?
The missions are week-long, from Saturday to Sunday, sometimes slightly different. It might seem too short, but according to experience, it’s exactly the duration which the whole team and local staff, who are an indispensable part, can sustain. The usual setup is 2 cardio surgeons, an anesthesiologist, 2 cardiologists, an intensive care physiologist, and at least 2 nurses, better 4. In the case of Kenya missions also a coordinator of the whole project. Right after flight arrival, we go straight to the hospital. Even before the material heads there. The scope varies depending on the equipment of the particular hospital. On the spot the examination reports of the first children and patients to be operated on. The surgery itinerary is roughly set up already in Prague. Our cardiologist exams the children again and makes an evaluation. From Monday to Friday the surgeries take place, usually, two children a day, two of our surgeons with the assistance of the local staff — a very important part of the mission is the teaching, and the ultimate goal is the development of independent local cardio surgery — so they work from the morning until 5 PM, often until the late evening. Anesthesia, pre-surgery, and postoperative care are in the hands of an experienced anesthesiologist. The care for children has been secured 24 hours around, for the night shifts the team is alternated by an intensive care specialist. Amongst others, our nurses are paying close attention to local staff setting together with the standards of care by the middle medical staff. Usually, we can see the children have had surgery in the first days, leaving the department in the arms of their parents to the standard departments for usual aftercare. The Friday’s children we stabilized hand on to the care of the local doctors and we stay in close contact until their discharge. As the missions to India are run and financed by the HLH (Healing little hearts) from the United Kingdom, the team is English-Czech. Where the Kenya missions are Slovak-Czech. The cooperation of so many specialized doctors, nurses, and without any doubt personalities, is incredibly enriching and essentially interesting for me. Any potential differences are wholly overcome by common goals and will of giving the best help to the little patients and their families.
What does one need to bring on to set on this kind of journey?
Nothing special. You need a specialization needed by the mission team, one needs to be able and willing to communicate with the others, and it is vital to work as a team member.
It comes in handy being adaptable to changes and unexpected situations, which occur always (a rat in the room, in which the English nurses were staying in Bangalore, belongs to the funniest). Essential is also the ability to cooperate appropriately and without conflicts with local nurses, doctors, the hospital management, and all necessary involved people, which also counts a cab driver, without whom one doesn’t get to the hospital in Nairobi… English is vital. A sense of humor is always handy in any amount!
How does your family perceive your journeys?
I think there are two criteria, firstly my absence from home, that is why I have waited until the children reach an age in which it won’t be an issue. And then there are their opinions about the world, help, and medicine. They all are very sensitive towards the problems of the contemporary world and according to their specialization are effectively helping where they feel their calling, where they realize their abilities. I think, I regard it as normal, that as a medical doctor I go realize that what I can, where it’s needed! The youngest daughter was at the time of my first mission nine years old, it wasn’t easy for her. She has expressed her opinion precisely: mom, I miss you very much, but I am happy, that you are helping there. My husband is a great cook and has never been discouraging me from the missions.
Are you, besides the doctors who have taken part in the missions, also in contact with some former patients?
Yes, we keep in contact, we know each other, and the team is able to get on the road within a certain time. The contact with patients depends on how much are the patient’s parents in contact with the disease. If they are regularly visiting, usually the local colleagues let us know. Of course, it brings us great joy to know, that they are well and in good health. Unfortunately, part of the job is, that against all our effort a child can’t be saved, because the defect was too complicated. Usually, this is accepted by the staff and family with humility and understanding.
You have recently returned from a mission to Nairobi. Is after the return a long regeneration necessary, whether physical, or mental, or are you already planning your next journey?
I just need some sleep, as I am taking over work in the hospital for the night. I’ll start right during the return flight… At home, I stretch a bit, tidy the household, and share my experiences and I am looking forward to the next mission already! But usually, it isn’t possible to take part in more than two missions a year, as we all have work obligations in our hospitals and also the preparation takes up some two months. I must thank the primary of the Cardiac surgery department and the directorate of the Masaryk hospital for their incredibly outgoing attitude, which they had taken without hesitation. I appreciate it greatly and strongly believes, that the acquired experience will be of benefit to our department and hospital.
What do the foreign missions mean for you personally?
Actions, in which commitment, abilities, and effort of everyone are aimed at clear goals, without striving for personal ambitions, where cooperation and willingness are a norm, bring me true joy. I am for years working only in the adult department and returning to children is every time a job reward. At night time I supplement the day’s work of all and I am striving to hand the children over a step closer
Photography from missions in 2018 and 2019 is an activity performed by Mater hospital (Nairobi, KE), SSE tools of SlovakAid (SAMRS, Slovak Republic), Slovak Embassy in Kenya, and Earth Cause ( CA, USA) in the year of 2019
Published with the permission from the original source “Práce lékaře je univerzální možnost pomoci a zároveň hlubšího pochopení světa”, March 2022
Part of an informal series for the Heart for Kenya initiative and publicly funded humanitarian assistance of Slovak Republic 2020–2022
Photography, edit and text by Jan Husar