Children’s HeartLink in 2021 | Top Five Stories

Published on December 14, 2021

2021 was an enriching year for Children’s HeartLink. We changed our program model, established transformational partnerships and strengthened our advocacy work for children with heart disease. Everything that we have done and continue to do is aimed at helping improve pediatric cardiac care around the world and, thus, saving the lives of more children. 


First Children’s HeartLink Center of Excellence in Brazil 

Thousands of children born with heart disease in southeast Brazil receive high-quality cardiac care in their own country at Children’s HeartLink Center of Excellence Hospital da Criança e Maternidade (HCM). In November 2021, HCM in São José do Rio Preto became the first Center of Excellence in Brazil and the sixth in the world. 

Since 2009, Children’s HeartLink medical volunteers helped the HCM team significantly improve clinical care, reduce postoperative infections and reduce the mortality rate in complex procedures. Volunteer teams from Mayo Clinic, Children’s Minnesota and Seattle Children’s Hospital provided support to HCM, which has rapidly evolved into one of the best pediatric cardiac programs in Brazil.

Increased Role of Children’s HeartLink Centers of Excellence

With a focus on virtual training during the pandemic, our Centers of Excellence—partner hospitals that meet high standards of heart care and became training centers themselves—have taken their work to a new level. Centers of Excellence are now actively helping to educate other clinicians from low-income countries. “They’ve already had fellowship programs and done training, and what we are seeing in the post-COVID world is that they are doing it even more now, utilizing remote technologies to train people all around the world,” says Anne Betzner, vice president of programs and evaluation.

Specifically, in 2021, two Children’s HeartLink Centers of Excellence—Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences (Kochi, India) and Institut Jantung Negara (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)—conducted eight online sessions for almost 1,500 physicians and nurses on challenges in pediatric heart surgery in low-resource environments.

Strengthening Advocacy Work

As a leading global champion for the health and rights of children with heart disease, we focus on creating change in the four priority areas of the advocacy work outlined in The Invisible Child series: increasing the pediatric cardiac capacity; building the pediatric cardiac workforce; closing the data gap; and financing pediatric cardiac care. In 2021, we strengthened our advocacy through effective collaborations with such organizations as Heart University.

We engage with policymakers and other key stakeholders to guide and shape government priorities, investments, strategies and policies. An example of this is our multi-year initiative in the Indian state of Kerala between Children’s HeartLink, Kerala Government and Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences (Center of Excellence). This program contributed to reducing infant deaths from heart disease from 12 to 7 babies per 1,000 births. Our original research on this innovative program, the first of its kind in low- or middle-income countries, was published in Global Heart in October 2021. 

New Learning Model: Virtual + In-Person

Children’s HeartLink evolved the way we deliver training and education to health care providers. With travel restrictions in place, we paused our in-person model of training and transitioned to remote trainings, which utilized a combination of didactic, hands-on and case study methods, along with medical webinars and conferences. In 2021, Children’s HeartLink conducted 145 remote trainings. More than 5,400 clinicians were trained to impact the lives of more than 122,000 children; 378 medical volunteers donated their times.

We began piloting new technologies such as remote 3D-printed heart model trainings and are planning our pilot of mixed reality smartglasses (Microsoft HoloLens2). Remote trainings have already shown its efficiencies in our partnerships, including Instituto do Coração in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and our three partners of the Narayana Health network in India. (Narayana Institute of Cardiac Sciences in Bangalore; Rabindranath Tagore International Institute of Cardiac Sciences in Kolkata; and Narayana Superscpeciality Hospital, Howrah)

Children’s HeartLink’s new standard of training, the Blended Learning Model, will help us train even more health providers and achieve our ambitious goal of serving one more million children by 2030.

Partnership with Medtronic Foundation

In April 2021, we launched a new 3-year partnership with the Medtronic Foundation, which is aimed at training 10,000 health workers and providing heart surgery for 10,000 children over the next three years. The partnership focuses on reducing disparities in access to care and improving quality care and patient outcomes. To help achieve these goals, the Medtronic Foundation dedicated financial resources, and Medtronic employees will contribute their time and skills to achieve equitable health care for more children.

Within this partnership, Children’s HeartLink will support existing partners and will add five new partner hospitals around the world.