Medical Volunteer for 28 Years: Dr. Peter Hesslein Receives 2022 Children’s HeartLink Founders Award

Pediatric cardiologist Dr. Peter Hesslein, who has been involved with Children’s HeartLink as a medical volunteer and supporter for over 28 years, receives the 2022 Children’s HeartLink Founders Award at the Global Gathering event. This annual award was established in honor of Children’s HeartLink founder Dr. Joe Kiser, to recognize individuals who demonstrate extraordinary contributions to cardiac services in underserved parts of the world.

Published October 20, 2022

Peter Hesslein Headshot
Peter Hesslein, pediatric cardiologist and Children’s HeartLink medial volunteer

“It’s particularly gratifying to treat children, knowing they will then have a full life ahead of them. In the United States, we have the ability, facilities and access to do this. Overseas, children with correctable defects may not have that chance. An organization like Children’s HeartLink, working so hard to provide such opportunities for children, is quite meaningful to me,” says Dr. Peter Hesslein.

Dr. Hesslein’s involvement in Children’s HeartLink began in 1994. His participation in a medical conference in Costa Rica co-sponsored by Children’s HeartLink led to his joining our mission trips to Costa Rica, Guatemala, Colombia, Ukraine, China, Kenya and India.

Dr. Hesslein and Children’s HeartLink helped a cardiac center in southern India, Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences, to achieve world-class standards of heart care. “Peter was instrumental in creating our partnership with Children’s HeartLink that was critical in the evolution of our program over the next 20 years into a center of excellence,” says Dr. Krishna Kumar, head of pediatric cardiology at AIMS.

As the Children’s HeartLink approach evolved from leading mission trips to expanding capacity and quality of pediatric cardiac care—through medical training, global partnerships and collaboration with local health ministries—Dr. Hesslein helped integrate services for children with congenital heart disease (CHD) in the Indian state of Kerala. The Hridyam “Heart” program takes a population health approach, aiming to improve the recognition and referral of CHD while reducing treatment inequities. The Hridyam program has contributed to significant reductions in infant mortality in Kerala, from 12 to 7 babies per 1,000 births. This is now the lowest of all 28 Indian states (current average 27.7).

Peter Hesslein in Bangalore
Peter Hesslein traveled to Bangalore, India with Children’s HeartLink in 1999

“Peter’s most impactful contribution has been in the establishment of a remarkably innovative framework for the Hridyam program,” Dr. Kumar continues. “It’s perhaps the only one of its kind in the world that seeks to provide access to every single child with congenital heart disease in a region. In the five years since its introduction, over 14,000 children with CHD have been registered and nearly 5,000 have been operated upon with remarkably good results.”

In 2021, Dr. Hesslein co-authored the publication describing the Kerala innovative program for CHD and its impact.

Dr. Hesslein notes that his involvement with this program has been one of the most rewarding experiences of his professional career.

“The Kerala project is something for which I am most proud. It is a visionary program that has potential application beyond pediatric Cardiology, into other age groups and disease entities. When a population health approach is taken, you can get better results thanks to early identification and real-time tracking of cases on a database, so that nobody is missed or falls between the cracks.”

About Children’s HeartLink
Children’s HeartLink saves children’s lives by transforming pediatric heart care in underserved parts of the world. The global nonprofit organization (NGO), partners medical volunteers from top teaching and research institutions with doctors, nurses and health care professionals in Brazil, China, India, Malaysia and Vietnam to develop or improve pediatric cardiac care programs. Since 1969, the organization has reached more than 1.5 million children.

Founders Awards Winners
2021: Three Experts Receive 2021 Founders Award
2020: Nurse Educator Dr. Sandra Staveski Receives 2020 Founders Award
2019: Volunteer for 23 Years: Dr. Joe Derani Receives Founders Award
Watch a video about Children’s HeartLink founder Dr. Joe Kiser: Remembering Our Founder Dr. Joe Kiser | Children’s HeartLink – YouTube