Back from the Brink: American Doctors Help Save the Tiniest Lives in War-Torn Hospital

Until just a few years ago there was not a single pediatrician in all of Liberia, the war-weary country in West Africa.  A 14-year civil war had left the nation and the medical system in shambles. 

In fact, just five years ago, the John F. Kennedy Hospital, once one of the premier medical facilities in all of Africa, had no running water and no electricity. Perhaps most devastating, there were virtually no doctors.

Under the steady leadership of Dr. Wvannie MacDonald, the hospital is slowly coming back.  Help has been provided by another native Liberian, Dr. James Sirleaf.  

Dr. Sirleaf, an emergency room doctor in Bridgeport, Conn., and son of the country’s president (and recent Nobel Prize winner) Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, realized how great the need for doctors is in his homeland.  He had the idea of recruiting  residents in American medical schools to go to Liberia and help.  The HEARTT Foundation was born. 


Dr. Andy Sechler (far left) and Dr. Torian Easterling (far right), both residents at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York and part of their Global Health Program, as well as Dr. Sia Camanor pose with "Nightline" anchor Cynthia McFadden in John F. Kennedy Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia. Drs. Sechler and Easterling are there as part of the HEARTT FOUNDATION

Now over 70 American doctors a year take turns serving at JFK.  Working with nearly two dozen top medical schools in the U.S., including Mount Sinai in New York, Harvard, Yale and the University of Chicago, HEARTT doctors provide not only care, but training for the next generation of Liberia’s doctors and nurses. ” Nightline” traveled to JFK Hospital to capture the extraordinary work in action.

Among the many fascinating ways these doctors are making a difference is by teaching a new generation of midwives the life-giving techniques of “ Helping Babies Breathe,” developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics.    

Every year an estimated four million newborns around the world die during their first month of life.  Nearly half of those deaths are as a result of inadequate breathing immediately after birth.  “Nightline” witnessed a class of eager young midwives learning the simple techniques to help a new generation of Liberian babies take their first healthy breaths. In fact the Academy wall poster and flip charts were being used by Sechler and Easterling (pictured above). 

“Nightline” will air a special edition on Friday,  Nov. 25 at 11:35 p.m. EST, focusing on what’s being done with the smallest and most vulnerable of patients.

For more information visit the following websites:

Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s Global Health Center:

HEARTT Foundation:

“Helping Babies Breathe”: