GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. (WCCO) – The bright sunshine and cool breeze made for the perfect day to take in a round of golf.

Some golfers who hit the links on Monday did more than work on their handicap.

They took part in the 20th Annual Children’s HeartLink Golf Tournament at Golden Valley Country Club.

The group teams children’s cardiac experts here in the U.S. with hospitals in six underserved countries that need support and improved education for pediatric cardiology.

Doctors are paired with partners in Brazil, China, Ecuador, India, Malaysia, South Africa, Ukraine and Vietnam.

Elizabeth Sweeney is president of Children’s HeartLink.

“The thing that I’ve always been struck by is parents are the same everywhere in the world,” said Sweeney. “We have so much available here to us here in this country and so many places just don’t have that kind of access.”

Congenital heart disease is the most common major birth defect, affecting 1 in 120 kids worldwide.

The organization says 90% of those kids are born in parts of the world where the medical care for those newborns is inadequate or unavailable.

Children’s HeartLink eases the fear from that scary diagnosis.

Pediatric cardiac surgeon Dave Overman works at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. He volunteers with the group, traveling to a partner hospital in Brazil.

“Words can’t describe the look on a mother or father’s face after their child has survived such an ordeal,” said Overman. “Most of these families have brought their children great distances. Most of them never had a hope for a solution or cure to their children’s problem.”

Sweeney echoes the sentiment.

“The thing that I’ve always been struck by is parents are the same everywhere in the world: it doesn’t matter if you’re in the US or China or Vietnam. A parent’s love for a child is the same. No matter where you go. As a parent we’ll do anything we can for our children,” said Sweeney.

The pediatric cardiologists in Minnesota also team up with doctors in Stanford, Columbia and Seattle to work with hospitals abroad.

Children’s HeartLink is not an organization that sends a team of doctors to treat as many kids as they can at once.

During the trips, the doctors treat fewer than 10 cases.

“We use those small number of cases to teach and improve systems of care,” said Dr. Overman. “The idea is one empowers those intuitions to carry their flag as it were. To acquire the skills, and expertise and really the infrastructure to do their own work.”

While expert care and compassion is used with each case, the team of doctors emphasize less on the specific patients and more on the overall procedure.

“The more important aspects are how an ICU is structured and staffed. How does one do effective infection control? A recent initiative has been tracking outcomes through an international consortium,” said Overman.

Expanded teaching and institutional training helps those local hospitals become a regional resource for helping kids with heart problems.

“We have so much available here to us here in this country and so many places just don’t have that kind of access to care, such as heart disease,” said Sweeney.

“There have been thousands upon thousands of children who have been helped as a result of the teaching and training that we’re able to provide to these partners of ours.”

Children’s HeartLink has provided more than $63 million in support, treatment, education and equipment to hospitals in the 46 years it’s been operating.

Dr. Overman emphasized that helping kids live healthy lives is just one benefit of the program.

“It may strike one as being an act of charity on our end. But the reality is at the end of the day, we come home with a much larger gift as it were,” said Overman.

You can find more information on Children’s HeartLink on its website.


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