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International Children's Heart Foundation

What Dr. Rodrigo Soto Can Teach Us About Health Care Reform And Mexico


There is no doubt that the topics of Health care reform and Mexican immigration have paralyzed the United States since President Donald Trump took office.  Both have monopolized our media and coerced a bit of a civil war among us. It disheartens me to see such a divide and the vehement backlash that is devouring our nation and any hope of progress merely because we fall to be able to accomplish the first critical step of coming together as a people. We seem to have forgotten how lucky we are amidst all of the turmoil...even at our worst.


It’s a realization that Dr. Rodrigo Soto, CEO of the International Children’s Heart Foundation (ICHF), is reminded of daily as he leads his team of medical professionals and volunteers into countries far less fortunate than our own to repair the “broken” hearts of children -- children whose lives may never be lived given he viewed health care and social responsibility differently than he does. And he’s not only operating, he’s teaching local medical professionals and volunteers living within the communities he and his medical mission groups visit, how to mimic and apply his expertise so that they can care for their own in ways that ensure the expansion of self-sufficiency for the community and optimum health care for kids.  His next stop, Monterray, Mexico, beginning April 28th.  He and his team will remain there until May 5th, just one of seventeen medical missions coordinated for 2017.


WIth the goal of doing his job so well that, one day, ICHF is no longer needed, Dr. Soto shares some sobering realities that makes our health care woes and argument over that wall 'disgustingly' petty in comparison to what so many other countries are coping with, daily.  His interview is a wake-up call to all and I urge you to read it, below.


What is your personal mantra?

If you think it needs to be done, do it yourself. Don’t wait for others.


Share some relevant facts about your personal, professional and medical background. Please include the country in which you grew up as well.

I received my MBBS degree from the University of Chile School of Medicine in 1990 and completed residencies in general and cardiac surgery at Luis Calvo Mackenna Children’s Hospital in Santiago, Chile.  I followed these accomplishments with fellowships in cardiac surgery at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, and the Paediatric Cardiac Unit at Hôpital Marie Lannelongue in Paris, France.


Why did you become involved and then agree to lead the International Children’s Heart Foundation (ICHF)?

I was invited to participate as a volunteer surgeon in 2012 by Dr. Tom Karl in Managua, Nicaragua. I was a volunteer for 10 years before I was invited to participate as a full-time surgeon with the foundation in 2012. In 2014, after a big restructure of the foundation, I was offered to lead the clinical operations of ICHF, a position that I was very honored to accept.


Please provide specifics about ICHF.  Please include the date this organization was founded, information about the founders, themselves, as well as what triggered the founders to actually launch ICHF.

ICHF was founded in 1993 and became a registered non-profit in 1994 due to the fact that there were hundreds of thousands of children born around the world without access to cardiac surgery and to find the most cost-effective long-term solution to this issue.


What, specifically, is the mission of ICHF and how do you carry out that mission?

The mission of the International Children’s Heart Foundation (ICHF) is to bring the skills, technology and knowledge to cure and care for children with congenital heart disease into developing nations.  ICHF does this regardless of country of origin, race, religion or gender. Our goal is to make the need for ICHF obsolete. We work towards this goal through our medical mission trips, where we operate on children and educate local healthcare professionals.


How large is your the actual ICHF team? And how many volunteers do you have working with you?

6 staff (1 part-time) and 1,500 volunteers


ICHF is funded how?  

Individual donations, industry donations and grants, partnerships with like-minded NGOs (both in the US and overseas).


What does it cost to operate ICHF per year?  What does it cost to fund one medical mission?

$500,000 per year. $50,000-$60,000 depending on the site.


How many individuals participate in each medical mission?



Roughly, how many children throughout the world need ICHF's services per year?



How do you choose the countries to help as well as the children to help within these countries?

The need is so huge that we can choose from any under-developed country in the world; however, due to limited financial resources, we are only able to address a few of those. Normally, we are invited to a country to provide assistance. After a comprehensive review and a site visit, we develop a strategic plan customized to the site and focus on getting the funding for the trips.  Once the trip is organized, the local cardiology presents the most urgent cases needing surgery, and from those, we decide who will receive surgery on each trip. It is important to mention that our main goal is to build capacity, and the surgery is used as a means to deliver the knowledge and “know how” to the local medical professionals.


Briefly share what a day on an ICHF medical mission looks like.

0700-OR and ICU dayshift has breakfast together

0730-Team leaves for the hospital

0800-ICU and I do morning rounds on the kids who were operated on the day before while the OR team starts setting up the OR for the days cases. During rounds we plan the medical treatment for every single patient and address any relevant issues that occurred overnight.

After rounds-I go to the OR to get ready for my first case while the ICU team continues to work on the postop care.

Once surgery is finished, the patient is transferred to the ICU where a comprehensive and detailed handover is done.

Short Break/Lunch

OR begins 2nd case-Depending on the complexity of the cases, we may end at 5pm or at midnight. OR does not leave until the job is complete.

2000-ICU nightshift team arrives and replaces the dayshift team.  We cover the ICU 24x7 during the 2 weeks we are there.


Share a moment in your service with ICHF that you will never forget and explain why?

It was April 2010, and I was leading a team in Santiago, Dominican Republic. I received a phone call from the ICHF headquarters letting me know that a 3-year-old girl from Cambodia - who had been denied surgery in the United States due to the high risk of the procedure - was going to be transferred to DR to be assessed by our team. The patient and her father flew from the US to DR, and we found that she had a rare condition called Tetralogy of Fallot with Absent Pulmonary Valve Syndrome. At that time, even though it was a risk procedure, we thought surgery was the only hope for this little girl, and we decided it was a risk worth taking. Surgery was performed, the case was uneventful, she recovered beautifully, and after a week, she was discharged from the hospital. I will never forget the look on her father’s face -- the way that he thanked me for saving his daughter. I still receive updates from her, and she has been growing beautifully and living a healthy life in her village in Cambodia.


How do you keep yourself from becoming overwhelmed and disheartened given the tremendous need out there for this type of medical treatment?

I, sometimes, feel overwhelmed because it is a lot of work and a lot of responsibility to take someone’s life into your hands. However, I know that every patient that we operate on - on any trip that we do - helps us to move closer to our final goal of becoming 'obsolete'. What I do feel, more often, is frustration due to the lack of commitment and the lack of responsibility of governments that still think providing health care is a privilege and not a right. I feel frustrated for the selfishness of many people that could help these thousands of kids, and they decide not to.


Why should someone donate, volunteer or participate in ICHF, in your opinion?  Include what makes your organization unique.

ICHF is unique from the perspective that we provide education and support with medical equipment around the globe in order to build capacity. By doing this, we not only are helping the kids with congenital heart disease, but also, we are upgrading all the services within that particular hospital, which at the end of the day, will help any critically ill child.


So what ICHF does, is way beyond addressing only children with congenital heart disease. ICHF is helping all the kids that will require sophisticated ICU treatment in any country. We do not believe  the “hit-and-run” missions have any real benefit, and they are not cost-effective in the long-run. We know how to do this, and we are very good at doing it.


Our teams are built with 1st class healthcare professionals coming from the best pediatric cardiac units around the world. In 2015, we ended with a global mortality of 2%, which is lower than both the US and Europe. This is not random. This is a reflection of our true dedication to take the best care of these patients. However, we cannot do this alone. We need resources; we need finances to organize the mission trips; and we need people to help us on the missions.


What is one thing about ICHF I have not asked but you would like to share?

The methodology that ICHF uses, is probably the most cost-effective way to serve the children with congenital heart disease. No other model is as effective as ICHF’s model in solving this issue, and certainly, no money is better spent than the one used on building local capacity.


When all is said and done, how do you want to be remembered?

I want ICHF to be remembered as the organization that makes 'hope' come to life for many families.


Selfless, tireless, and determined to keep his mind (and heart) on what’s truly important for all of humanity, Dr. Rodrigo Soto is courageously demonstrating, first-hand, the benefits of removing walls and building bridges at a critical time in all our history.  To mimic him seems to leave a country better off than when it starts out.  It is a mindset of enormous benefit, one the United States might think to adopt as we contemplate future health care plans and the giant structure Mexico “will” or “will not”  be paying for down-the-line.


Many thanks to Dr. Rodrigo Soto for making this interview possible


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