Hartford HealthCare Cardiologist Volunteers to Provide Care in Rwanda

Dr. Stephanie Saucier is in Africa with Team Heart to screen patients, perform surgeries and share her expertise on heart health.

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With February being American Heart Month, a lot of people have been thinking a little bit more about their well-being, but one cardiologist from Hartford HealthCare is improving heart health halfway around the world.

On any given day, you will find Dr. Stephanie Saucier at Hartford HealthCare’s Heart and Vascular Institute, where she works as a non-invasive cardiologist and is co-director of the Women’s Heart Wellness Program.

However now, for two weeks, Saucier is in Rwanda.

“It's been incredible,” she said.

Saucier traveled to Africa through Team Heart. The nonprofit is made up of medical staff from leading cardiac surgery centers and cardiology programs across the United States. Those experts use their own vacation time and money to travel to Rwanda and provide care.

“Team Heart is an incredible not-for-profit organization that has been treating rheumatic heart disease and Rwanda for 17 years,” Saucier said. “The entire Team Heart team really comes together with physicians, nurses, a surgeon, from all over the country, including me from Connecticut, to help out.”

During her trip, Saucier is volunteering at several district hospitals, CHUK, Nemba, Munini and King Faisal Hospitals. Her team has operated on seven patients, replacing and repairing rheumatic valves.

“I also screened over 50 patients, with echocardiograms, evaluating them for surgery,” Saucier said. “The patients are just incredible. They're so thankful. And really, this experience is very humbling.”

Beyond treating patients on the spot, she is sharing her expertise with cardiology fellows on the program.

Since there are a limited number of cardiologists in Rwanda, she’s also training hospital nurses to do complex screenings.

“It's incredibly exciting to be part of changing how they screen patients, and really watching the nurses eyes light up, when they learn how to do an echo, or how they get the right views on their echocardiogram, and how to interpret them,” Saucier said.

This is the second time Saucier has joined Team Heart in Rwanda. The first was in 2020, before the pandemic.

“I really do take into consideration all of the patient's social living situation, financial situation, in terms of what treatment options we can give, and also how the healthcare system works,” she said.

She expects to bring a new perspective back to Connecticut, mending hearts across the world and here at home.

“Every time I come back, I'm a little bit different. I like to think a better doctor for my patients in Connecticut,” Saucier said. “I really can focus on, hey, what limitations do my own patients have that we need to address?”

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