TAMPA, FL – The vision for Heartbeat International formed when Federico Alfaro, a young doctor who had recently completed his residency at Baylor University, was in Guatemala and presented the case of a 17-year-old boy who had a serious heart block.
A heart block occurs when the electrical signals that control your heartbeat malfunction. That disruption causes an irregular heartbeat, i.e., the heart is unable to efficiently pump the blood from the atria to the ventricles. The blockage is not in the heart per se but in the nerves that carry the electrical impulses to the heart.
A heart block is a form of congestive heart failure. The principal form of treatment is implanting a pacemaker or other intracardial device. The procedure is a relatively short one, but the cost is far beyond the means of a 17-year-old Guatemalan or his family.
It did not take a copious amount of intensive research for Dr. Alfaro to realize that there were thousands of poverty-ridden patients who desperately needed the implant procedure.
Pursuing his odyssey, Dr. Alfaro experienced several encounters that combined to provide the genesis of what is today Heartbeat International.
Alfaro managed to reconnect with Dr. Henry D. McIntosh, the former Chairman of Medicine at Baylor. Now living in Florida, Dr. McIntosh proposed utilizing previously used devices that he would gift to Dr. Alfaro.
A distinguished Rotarian was also party to the doctors’ conversation. He had connections at a company that manufactured pacemakers. He convinced the company to donate 400 new pacemakers to help get the program off the ground. Much to Alfaro’s and McIntosh’s surprise, Rotary International created a grant of $250,000 to help fund the effort.
In 1984, Heartbeat International was established with additional collaboration and support from partners like BIOTRONIK, Medtronic, Intermedics, and the American College of Cardiology. In 2007, the Heartbeat International Foundation was founded to support the charitable work of the organization.
Heartbeat International has provided its life-saving services in more than 20 countries, partnering with heart centers, medical facilities, and local leadership. The organization and its partners have helped more than 16,000 people who would otherwise not have been able to afford the procedure.
The average cost of the $60,000 procedure through Heartbeat has been reduced to $585. The network supplies the devices free of charge, a medical facility provides its services, and Heartbeat covers the supplemental costs. For the patient, the service is free.
Dr. Alfaro serves as the Honorary Director of Heartbeat International.