By Natalie Constantin, PICU Nurse Volunteer, Melbourne Australia
Volunteering had been on my mind for about a year before I heard about Novick Cardiac Alliance. Friends of mine were planning on going on a trip to Tehran with NCA, and I picked their brains about what they were expecting and what NCA’s priorities were. On their return, I learned working closely with local teams, educating and upskilling their practice were at the forefront of the organisation. Deciding that I wanted to take the leap and join NCA, I sent off an email and was then asked to join them on a trip to Russia.
Not much can prepare you for what to expect when working with NCA in another country, far outside of your comfort zone. Equipment is different, or simply not available. You don’t have all your diagnostic tools around. Your stethoscope, hands and eyes become your best friend. You learn to identify a change in your patient without blood tests and scans, simply because they are not resources that is readily obtainable. You work with staff from different educational backgrounds, who have not had the opportunity to be orientated into a busy paediatric cardiac surgery unit under the guidance of preceptors and educators, there to answer your questions and guide your practice. But, the truth is, children with congenital heart defects are born around the globe every day, and just because a state-of-the-art centre doesn’t exist in their home country doesn’t mean that they are any less deserving of care and treatment. NCA fills that void, meeting locals at the level they are at, guiding them in clinic, theatres and the ICUs.
Education at ground level is continuous, with NCA staff always eager to answer questions, offer guidance and work side-by-side with local health professionals. My skills as a paediatric ICU nurse were welcome, and I was immediately welcomed as part of the crew. The focus is on preparing local teams to continue what NCA has started, with the priority being that children, wherever they are born, will be able to receive treatment, against the odds that borders, resources and lack of funds may bring.
Volunteering with NCA has given me a new awareness of how lucky we are in developed nations. I will always consider it a privilege to have worked alongside NCA in giving children a new lease on life, regardless of where they may call home.