Get to Know Bistra Zheleva, Vice President of Global Strategy and Advocacy

Bistra: The most rewarding part of my job is to see the relief on the faces of parents when their children are doing well after surgery

What does a typical day at work look like?

I donā€™t think I have had a typical day in many years. šŸ˜Š My days in the office are a mix of meetings, phone and online calls, emails, writing articles and blogs, reading scientific and other publications on health care, as well as engaging on social media, especially Twitter. When I travel, I have meetings with different stakeholders involved in pediatric cardiac care, speak at conferences or visit hospitals. I recently counted that over the last 15 years I have visited 94 hospitals through my work at Children’s HeartLink! I look forward to visiting many more.

Tell us a little about your background and why it led you to Childrenā€™s HeartLink.

Pure chance but it was lifechanging. After finishing my undergraduate degree in finance and working for a few years in my native country of Bulgaria, I received a scholarship to study banking and finance for a year in the United States. I stayed on to complete a Master of Business Administration degree in nonprofit management, and all along I knew I wanted to work for an international nonprofit organization. I started at Children’s HeartLink as an intern and a few months later was hired as an office manager. Since then I have had several different roles on our international programs team.

What motivates you?

There are so many people who inspire me. My family, friends and colleagues. Children’s HeartLink partners in underserved countries: these medical professionals make significant personal sacrifices to be in this field and persevere in the face of many challenges. The parents of the young patients our partner hospitals serve. Finally, the patient and family advocates I have had the fortune to meet and work with. What drives me personally is my love for constant learning and discovery, and most of all, being able to help children and their families get a fair chance in life.

What is the most rewarding part of your job? The most challenging?

Seeing the relief on the faces of parents when they see their children doing well after surgery. I also find it extremely rewarding to help our partner hospitals deliver the best possible care they can. It takes a uniquely talented person to specialize in pediatric cardiac sciences ā€“ intelligence, persistence, a constant desire to be better. I also like to take a challenge and contribute to its untangling. For example, the challenge of getting local government in the countries where we work to become more interested in supporting pediatric cardiac services. Still, the best part of my work is the continued affirmation that around the world we are more the same than we are different. I have seen it in many countries, and I am now one hundred percent certain: we all love and worry about our children in the same way, regardless of where we live.

What are the most important traits for your job?

Persistence and patience, adaptability, openness to new cultures and change, a sense of humor and ability to laugh. Being kind.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

My husband and I enjoy traveling. With our kids, we love visiting my family in Bulgaria every summer. I love reading fiction, watching music and dance performances, discovering new music and watching independent cinema. And I love dancing! But I rarely have time for all of this, so most of the time I am content just to have a nice conversation, laugh with the people I love and go to my favorite dance fitness class.

Whatā€™s something people are surprised to learn about you?

That I love poetry and sometimes even write it. Or that I am an introvert.

Tell us about your family.

My family lives in three countries, United States, Bulgaria and Russia, and is wonderful. I love them very much and am very grateful for everything they do and have done for me.

Bistra leads ourĀ global thought leadership strategy with governments and international development institutions, and she leads our country-level growth.Ā She has worked at Childrenā€™s HeartLink since 2003 and is a passionate advocateĀ of improving access to care for children who need pediatric cardiac services. She serves on the boards of Global Alliance for Rheumatic and Congenital Hearts, and One Heart Health. She is also a member of the steering committee of theĀ International Quality Improvement Collaborative, a globalĀ initiative aimed at improving cardiac care for children in low- and middle-income countries.Ā A native of Bulgaria, Bistra has an MBA in nonprofit management from the University of St. Thomas and has studied global health at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Learn more aboutĀ our work.