Published January 8, 2024
By Jackie Boucher, president of Children’s HeartLink
As I reflect upon the progress made by Children’s HeartLink in India over the past 25 years, I see lives impacted, partnerships strengthened, trainings implemented and leaders in health care who are committed to bettering heart care for children with congenital heart disease.
Our significant investment in India is paying dividends on the lives being saved and served—both in children reached and clinician teams trained. I see our partner hospitals, and two Children’s HeartLink Centers of Excellence, coming together to learn and support one another. It is through these trusted partnerships that we are seeing notable growth.
This growth wasn’t overnight. It has been years in the making. Through the partnerships we’ve built and their successes, Children’s HeartLink has come to be held in high regard among the pediatric cardiac care community in India.
We are excited to share that we are strengthening our involvement in the country over the coming months and years. Our strategic emphasis on India reflects a deliberate commitment and vision to provide high quality heart care to children with congenital heart disease (CHD).
Most recently, in November 2023, I traveled across India with Bistra Zheleva, vice president of global strategy and advocacy at Children’s HeartLink. While there, we visited with leadership and staff at several Children’s HeartLink hospital partners, attended the Pediatric Cardiac Society of India (PCSI) annual conference, spoke with many supporters of our mission, along with potential new partners, and spent time with two of Children’s HeartLink staff members in India, Veeralakshmi Rajasekhar, country director, and Sudha Samyukta Mutnury, India partnership manager. Our travel took us from Delhi all the way to Chennai, with many stops along the way. We truly made the most of every minute of this trip.
Why India? Why now? The urgent need for pediatric cardiac care in India
I believe now is the right time for Children’s HeartLink to invest more significantly in India. With the right partners and a solid foundation, we are poised to make a sustainable, impactful difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of children with heart disease.
Children’s HeartLink set an ambitious goal to reach one million more children by 2030, and we see significant potential to reach more children in India. With a blend of new and longstanding partnerships with hospitals throughout the country our strategy is clear: invest where we can create the most significant impact.
India, home to the world’s largest population, is presented with urgent healthcare challenges but also unique opportunities to expand access to high quality pediatric cardiac care. Approximately 240,000 children are born with congenital heart disease (CHD) in India each year, and an estimated 144,000 infants need CHD procedures annually. However, 90% lack access to the care they desperately need. Children’s HeartLink’s goal of developing more Centers of Excellence can help bridge this gap.
Building on strong foundations with inspirational leaders and lifesaving partnerships
I had the privilege of visiting several Children’s HeartLink partner hospitals. At G. Kuppuswamy Naidu Memorial (GKNM) Hospital in Coimbatore, I was impressed by the team and leadership. Dr. Vijayakumar Raju, director of pediatric congenital heart surgery, shared the amazing strides being taken by the team since forming a partnership with Children’s HeartLink in 2018. GKNM Hospital has increased surgeries on children and decreased mortality while building a talented and dedicated team.
What I’ve seen through our partnerships is that excellent leadership is required to make progress like this, including support from hospital leadership and administration. When I met with Dr. Ragupathy Veluswamy, CEO of GKNM Hospital, he shared how he continues to think about how to best serve children with congenital heart disease. As a pediatrician by training, he challenged us to think about how we better support these children, not only in caring for their hearts but their brain development as well.
The people and institutions we partner with challenge us to think bigger, to think broader and to be constantly learning about the needs in their community. This is how we evolve to improve how we save lives and transform pediatric heart care. We do this through connecting hospital partners and medical volunteer teams from leading pediatric heart care programs to ensure lasting, sustainable impact.
We meet our hospital partners where they are and guide them along the path to becoming a Children’s HeartLink Center of Excellence, like the two we already have in the country, including Amrita Hospital Kochi. They are at the forefront of innovation, as seen in the 3D printing and virtual reality (VR) lab, which is revolutionizing pediatric cardiology and beyond.
Our success in our partnership with Children’s HeartLink Center of Excellence Amrita Hospital Kochi is one of the driving factors in our decision to grow in the country. When a hospital partner achieves the Children’s HeartLink Center of Excellence designation, we want them to be thought leaders and train others in their region, in addition to doing research and delivering high quality heart care. Amrita Hospital Kochi excels in all of these areas.
When I look back over the years, I see a partnership that has really flourished. From the dedicated leaders within the hospital driving improved care to the collaborators on the Population Health Approach with the Government of Kerala to the advocacy partners who are passionate about sharing the need for all children to have access to pediatric heart care for their heart condition.
Welcoming our newest hospital partnerships in India
Both hospitals are at the beginning of what will be multi-year partnerships with us, with the goal of becoming Children’s HeartLink Centers of Excellence and expanding the reach and impact of pediatric cardiac education and care.
For the thousands of children born with congenital heart disease each year in India, these partnerships mean more access to lifesaving care. Sri Sathya Sai Sanjeevani Hospital serves children and families who cannot afford lifesaving heart care. Children who might have nowhere else to turn. This partnership is going to expand access to care and provide opportunities to expand clinicians’ abilities.
It is through the additions of partner hospitals that we grow and expand the reach of heart care to more children in India, and we are thrilled to have both new partners join us.
We also had an opportunity to visit Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences, also known as SGPGI Hospital, in Lucknow with the newly founded nonprofit organization Saloni Heart Foundation, which recently signed an agreement with the State of Uttar Pradesh to fund and develop a fully-fledged pediatric cardiac center emulating the Children’s HeartLink’s model for development of Centers of Excellence. An inspiring story!
Leveraging partnerships for impact
It’s clear Children’s HeartLink’s impact stretches beyond our hospital partners. This was visible when I attended the annual conference of the Pediatric Cardiac Society of India (PCSI) in Chennai. Our support of the annual conference and its nursing track is one example of the work and impact we can make outside of our hospital partnerships.
The 2023 conference, which was attended by close to 150 nurses and celebrated the 10th anniversary of the conference’s nursing track, is an opportunity to engage the nursing community. Children’s HeartLink initiated this first-of-its-kind nursing educational activity in India, and our medical volunteers have been integral in mentoring and supporting the Nursing Scientific Committee for it. Witnessing nurses present research while building and showcasing their clinical and leadership skills at the PCSI conference was a testament to the vital role nurses play in care.
Nurses are often the closest members of the heart care team to a child and their family after heart surgery. India’s healthcare landscape is facing a critical nursing shortage, compounded by challenges in pay equity, empowerment and professional growth. Through training programs supported by Children’s HeartLink, we’re committed to upskilling nurses, enhancing nurse leadership and fostering a culture where nurses are valued, empowered and seen as essential thought leaders in healthcare.
The right time, the right place to build sustainable heart care for children with CHD
In the 8 years since I joined Children’s HeartLink, I’ve seen our partnerships double and grow substantially. This means more children are getting the care they so desperately need.
Healthcare is a human right. We must work together, side-by-side, with hospitals, local governments, advocacy groups and global leaders to serve our children. Because every child deserves a healthy heart.
Our expansion in the country is built on our strong partnerships. Partnerships with hospitals, professional societies, other nonprofits and government entities. By expanding our partnerships now, we can build upon an already strong foundation and reputation for creating sustainable change for children and families affected by heart disease.
As we look ahead, our commitment is unwavering: to strengthen our presence in India, to innovate, to empower and most importantly to save and improve the lives of children with CHD. This is more than an investment; it’s a pledge to the heart of our future.
Your generous donations make this work possible. If you want to learn more or are interested in being a part of our growth, contact us.