This past June we proudly completed our third round of open heart surgeries, adding 12 more successful surgeries to the 21 completed last year. This simply could not have been possible without the tremendous hard work, sacrifice and dedication of Dr. James Hammel who performed successful surgeries on all of these Baja kids locally in La Paz. We are very pleased to provide you some insight into the background of Dr. Hammel as well as a recent interview with this very kind and talented individual.
Dr. Hammel is a graduate of the University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor. He completed his residency in General Surgery at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) and in Cardiothoracic Surgery during his residency at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Iowa City; after which he completed a fellowship in Congenital Cardiac Surgery at the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He also accomplished research fellowships in Neonatal Cardiac Surgery and Transplant Surgery. Dr. Hammel practices pediatric cardiothoracic surgery at both Children’s Hospital and Medical Center, Omaha and The Nebraska Medical Center. He is Board Certified in both Surgery and Thoracic Surgery. His clinics are held at Children’s Hospital and Medical Center (CHMC). Dr. Hammel is also Assistant Professor of Surgery in the Section of Cardiothoracic Surgery at UNMC.
Dr. Hammel is 44 years old and married to Dawn with a son, Silas, who is 16 years old and a daughter, Beatrice, who is 13 years old. His family lives in Omaha, Nebraska.
How did your work for the children in the Baja begin?
For many years a few kids from Baja were brought to Sioux Falls by Los Cabos Children’s Foundation to be treated at the Avera Health System. I got involved because one of the kids needed heart surgery and most of the patients from Sioux Falls travel to Omaha when this intervention is required. After that occasion, 1 or 2 kids were brought up first to Sioux Falls to be evaluated by pediatric cardiologist Dr. Sami Awadallah, and afterwards they were sent to Omaha for their surgery. One of these children died, his name was Mario, as he was very weak and after the surgery he did not make it. Had he been treated on time back home this would not have happened. This was very hard for me. After that came Perla and everything went very well with her. However, something needed to be done to avoid these delays in getting the urgent medical care the children in Baja needed.
What are you hoping to achieve through this program?
Starting a heart surgery program in La Paz allows us to multiply the benefits to the children and families in Baja California Sur. Treating children in La Paz allows us to serve more children and also to contribute in developing the local health system and improving their capacity to treat all sorts of affections.
My goal is teaching how to fish not just giving a fish for the day. We are seeking accreditation for this program to receive federal funds and become permanent. Our purpose is to bring specialists to La Paz that will stay full time and will be able to treat many more patients that require heart surgery.
What message do you wish to convey through this program?
What I wish to convey through our work is that every child is worth it. We insist in being able to treat all children, regardless of what type of health coverage they have or if they have none; no matter if he/she is poor or rich. You never know what each of these children might grow up to become. I believe in providing the highest medical attention to every family equally.
If we can get people to believe in what we are trying to achieve, to see that we are actually making it happen right now, that it was not just something we decided to do a few times…then maybe we can attract the correct, qualified and committed people to be able to achieve our goals.
Observing Dr. Hammel during surgeries and in speaking with patients and their families, his commitment, dedication and love is evident. Especially impactful was his interaction with previous patients from last year’s surgeries. There is a mutual admiration between doctor and patient.
While speaking with the families and doctors involved in the 12 surgeries, praise for the quality of medical attention was a repeat theme. Many indicated that the medical attention was the best they had ever witnessed.
The Los Cabos Children’s Foundation (LCCF) is very encouraged by the results of the Spirit of Love program and the LCCF work continues. Our goal is to facilitate the required treatment and care for the children of the Baja and ultimately contribute to the establishment of a permanent, local medical team to continue the valuable work which has been started. A worthy task indeed.