Boston Doc Saving Hearts in Africa

Born in Ghana, educated at Harvard, doctor returns to save children.

July 31, 2008 — -- In October of last year, Dr. Francis Fynn-Thompson of Children's Hospital in Boston -- a native of Ghana -- returned to his homeland and did what no one had ever done before: he performed the nation's first open-heart surgery, on a little girl named Sameera.

In this African nation of about 20 million people, more than 90,000 are born with heart defects every year, and until Fynn-Thompson arrived with a 24-member team from his hospital's cardiovascular program, there was not a single pediatric cardiologist to treat them.

A graduate of Harvard Medical School, Fynn-Thompson's return home signaled the fulfillment of a promise he made as a boy -- that like his physician parents before him, one day he would return home and make a difference.

"I saw how hard my parents worked and the sacrifices they made," he told "Good Morning America." "Growing up I always wished that I would be able to go back and contribute in some way."

To grant that wish, Fynn-Thompson teamed up with nurse Bev Small of Boston's Children's Cardiac ICU, and a veteran of more than ten overseas medical missions who knows the challenges these trips can present.

"It became very clear to us that we needed to take every single piece of equipment that we would need," Fynn-Thompson said. "They really have nothing."

During that trip, 50 children were evaluated and eight, including little Sameera, were operated on.

"We were able to provide [the] same high-quality care that we have come to expect within our cardiovascular program in Boston," Dr. Fynn-Thompson wrote on the Children's Hospital's Web site.

This March, he led a second mission to Kumasi, Ghana's second-largest city, to help as many children as possible during a 10-day visit.

By the time the team arrived, it was clear that word of the trip had spread like wildfire in the city. The waiting room was filled with hopeful parents and 100 sick children who were born with heart defects.

Of these 100, the team was forced to make a heartbreaking decision that took all day -- to select only 11 sick children to operate on.

Though so many children could not be helped on this trip, five more trips are planned to Ghana over the next two years.

More importantly, one of the goals of the missions, according to its Web site, is to establish a more permanent solution -- to establish a "self-sustaining" cardiac center.

To Small, taking time off from working in one of America's best pediatric hospitals to help with the only one in Ghana offers a certain elusive hope -- that "every kid in this world will hopefully be treated equally and get a fair chance."

Click here to visit the website for Children's Hospital Boston.