All About Heartbeat International

Interview by Jodie Elrod

Interview by Jodie Elrod

In this interview, we speak with Benedict S. Maniscalco, MD, Chairman and CEO of Heartbeat International Foundation, Inc.

Tell us about Heartbeat International’s mission. How many lives have been saved since HBI’s inception?

Heartbeat International is a charitable organization under the IRS tax code of 501(c)3 that provides implantable cardiac devices across the globe to needy people in developing countries. We have been doing this since 1984, and by today’s count we’re approaching approximately 12,000 lives that have been saved.

How are patients chosen to participate in the program?

First a physician will identify the patients who are in need of an implantable device. If they are unable to purchase or afford the device, or it is not covered by an agency, government program or insurance policy, the patient is referred to Heartbeat International. The physicians who work with Heartbeat International, as well as their hospitals, are prepared to provide all of their services free of charge. We perform an economic investigation as quickly as possible, and the process is validated by members of Heartbeat International and usually members of Rotary International. Once the patient’s economic status is determined to be in need and/or indigent, the procedure then takes place, with the patient receiving the device and the physician and hospital providing the service, with a lifetime of follow-up care free of charge.

From which medical manufacturers do you receive the donated pacemakers, defibrillators, cardiac resynchronization devices given to patients? Are the devices new or used?

BIOTRONIK, Medtronic, St. Jude Medical, and Boston Scientific/Guidant all participate in the program. The devices are brand new and generally are not too far removed from their “use before” date. 

How many Heartbeat International Heart Centers are there now, and in how many countries?

We are in 15 countries now, and in about 47 locations.

What are some of the more memorable stories of patients helped by Heartbeat International?

I remember my first visit with Heartbeat International to Guatemala — I was visiting the pacemaker clinic there, and the staff introduced me to a young boy who was about 14 years old. Earlier in life this boy had been very listless, performed very poorly in school, and could not play soccer with his friends due to his declining cardiovascular health. However, his mom persevered and found a cardiologist who recognized that this child needed a pacemaker. Once the pacemaker was implanted, this boy returned to an absolutely normal life. Then, about a year later, the boy was riding the school bus when a gunman boarded the bus and fired his gun several times, mortally wounding the bus driver. One of the bullets hit this young boy in the chest; he fell over and played dead, but in fact, the bullet was stopped by the battery of the pacemaker. So essentially, the battery saved his life twice! It’s a pretty memorable story in my opinion.

There was another story of a young man who I met in Mexico who was very sick. Receiving a pacemaker changed his life, and today he is a doctor in Mexico. These stories and countless others are significant not only to the patient but to their families and other people around them. Hundreds of thousands of lives are affected when someone who is waiting to die has their life changed by receiving the gift of a pacemaker.

Tell us about the development of the Global Cardiovascular Alliance and the services it will provide.

Simply put, the same population of patients who need pacemakers in these emerging countries are also in need of many other health services, not just in the cardiovascular field. According to the World Health Organization, the number one cause of death worldwide today is noncommunicable disease, which includes cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic lung diseases, and diabetes. However, cardiovascular diseases account for approximately 80% of noncommunicable diseases. So we recently held a United Nations Summit in which all the heads of state signed on to address the non-communicable disease epidemic in their respective countries. This Global Cardiovascular Alliance that we have put together recognizes the multiple organizations throughout the world, whether they are freestanding, charitable organizations like ours, or church-based or other individual organizations, who all go into these emerging communities on medical missions and provide free services to cardiovascular patients, from bypass surgery to diagnostics, etc. The Global Cardiovascular Alliance forms a strategic alliance to address these population-based problems. For instance, we could go into the country of Guatemala and not only have Heartbeat International staff handling pacemakers, but also have CardioStart (http://cardiostart.org/) or Project Pacer International (http://www.projectpacer.org/) or other organizations deal with diagnostics, testing, catheterizations, angioplasty, and surgery for those patients in need. This alliance would help move these organizations to carry out their own missions, in and out of the country, addressing the specific expertise and mission that they have to get these things done. Thus, the global alliance is a coming together of multiple organizations to serve the underserved and the cardiovascular field around the world.

Tell us about the upcoming ‘Over the Edge’ event for Heartbeat International.

As a charity, we are always trying to raise funds to carry out our mission. This particular fundraiser, and we have several throughout the year, is unique in that we have a professional group assisting our volunteers and fundraisers to rappel off of a downtown Tampa building. Over the Edge is a company that will come to a particular town and select a high-rise building, and then we select volunteers who are willing to donate money to Heartbeat International in exchange for the experience of rappelling “over the edge” of a local skyscraper. Once a participant’s donations reach $1,000, they are allowed to rappel down the side of the building. This, of course, raises a lot of eyebrows and a lot of excitement, and at the same time it allows people to contribute to Heartbeat International. What I like about this type of event the most is that it is portable, that is to say, we could probably do this in all the cities and countries that we are in around the world, and that is what we plan to do.

What are your goals for the future? What countries do you still hope to expand into?

Yes, as time, money and resources allow, we would like to be in all the countries that are in need. We are located on every continent now — in the Far East, Asia, Africa, Europe, Central and South America, Mexico, and the Philippines. As the need arises, and as individuals apply for membership in our organization, we certainly will be trying to accommodate that by starting our organization in those countries as well. As countries develop, they have different needs at different times, so we would look to match the needs that are identified with the appropriate resources available.

How can others get involved with Heartbeat International?

Those interested should contact us and let us know if they would want to be involved in educational programs, as a volunteer, or to participate in the missions that will be taking place. There are many possibilities.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Please generate as much support for us as you can. All help – whether it’s volunteer, monetary, or expertise in terms of teaching — is welcome, and so we encourage all who are interested to contact us and work with us in our quest to provide these services to the poor and less fortunate people around the world. 

For more information, please visit http://heartbeatsaveslives.com/