With infrastructure and equipment in
place, Kocis and his team embarked on a
two-week mission to perform 11 open-heart surgeries on children ranging from 4
months to 16 years old. All 11 surgeries
But they also went to teach the Ugandan
medical staff. Each specialist had a Ugandan
counterpart he or she trained and coached.
At the end of the trip, the Ugandan medical
team could perform the surgeries on its own.
“What I like about this trip is that we
are helping the children and creating a self-sufficient program,” said Dr. Michael Mill,
the pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon who
performed and oversaw the surgeries.
“Before last year, there had not been sur-
geries like this done.
We are really trying
to help improve the
The five nurses
who made the trip
prepared lessons to
share with Ugandan
“It was nice
because they got
more in-depth information,” said Karla
Brown ’ 87, a pediatric nurse practi-
tioner in the cardiothoracic surgery division. “We acted not as the primary nurses
this time but as the coaches.”
Brown said the nurses she trained
worked extremely long hours but were
always happy to be there and enthusiastic
“The nurses just soaked up everything.
They would flank you to see what you
were doing,” Brown said.
The Americans found their reward in
patients such as Esther, a 16-year-old
Sudanese girl who came to Uganda as a
refugee after she lost her family to violence
in Sudan. An American doctor who had
heard about the team’s work recommended
Esther for the surgery and helped her get
to the hospital.
Brown said Esther asked for a piece of
paper after her surgery. She then asked
Brown to tell her the first and last names of
each doctor and nurse who worked on her
so she could thank each person. While she
was in the hospital, Esther told the medical
staff she wanted to be a teacher one day,
but by the end of her time there, she had
changed her mind. Now she wants to be a
“She was very talkative when she recovered,” Kocis said. “She was a precocious
young adult. She was a sweet girl, and her
circumstances, being an orphan, that’s all part
of who she was and how special she was.”
Other team members were touched by
the gratitude expressed by the patients’
Dr. Benny Joyner ’ 93, a pediatric fellow
who works in the pediatric intensive care
unit at UNC, remembers the gratitude of
the mother of one patient who dressed in
ornate tribal clothing as an expression of
thanks because, without the surgery, her
child would have died.
“It’s just a different level of appreciation
than you see in the U.S.,” Joyner said. “I
think it really does humble you in terms of
the advantages you have.”
Kocis hopes to take a group from UNC
annually in the fall, and he says Sable plans
to lead a group from his hospital each
spring. Kocis said the team will need steady
funding and continued support from corporate sponsors, particularly for travel and
housing in Uganda.
UNC staff would like to teach the
Ugandans increasingly difficult techniques
so they can perform a wider range of surgeries and improve the surgical capabilities
of their staff and their hospital’s infrastructure. They also want to set up telecommunications for teaching.
“The people are here, they want to go,
and we are advancing the program as
quickly as we can,” Kocis said
To see more pictures and read about the
team members’ experience in Uganda, visit
their blog: uncugandateam.blogspot.com.
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