Six years ago, a young man in his 20s lay dying in a hospital bed in Rwanda. Emaciated, bed-ridden and incredibly ill with bacterial endocarditis, Jean Paul Iyamuremye’s chances of survival seemed slim. It was a drastic change from just four months earlier, when life had been so promising. He had just married a wonderful woman named Jacky, and they were ready to start their lives together.
But Jean Paul was lucky. While he was in the hospital, a newly formed group, called Team Heart, was just beginning to plan its first cardiac surgery mission to Rwanda. Led by BWH cardiac surgeon Chip Bolman, MD, and his wife, Ceeya Patton Bolman, RN, the team met Jean Paul and planned to operate on him during their mission five months later, hoping that he would survive in the interim.
He did, and received the first mechanical valve to be done in Rwanda on Team Heart’s inaugural trip in April of 2008.
Today, a vibrant, healthy and optimistic Jean Paul has just returned from Hawaii, where he received an award for his advocacy work on behalf of other Team Heart patients. The team returns to Rwanda each year, and Jean Paul is committed to helping patients as they undergo surgery and begin to recover.
“That’s my heart,”he said.“I love to do something for other people. We’re all brothers and sisters. If someone has a problem, I like helping him.”
The Bakken Invitation Award, presented by Medtronic, honors individuals who, with the help of medical technology, are giving their time and talent to improve the quality of life of others.
“It means so much to be to receive the award, and to be here, visiting my friends from Team Heart in Boston with my wife,” said Jean Paul, who traveled to Boston with his wife, Jackie.
Many of the members of Team Heart are BWH staff – physicians, nurses, pharmacists and others –who genuinely become like family to their patients. During this trip to Boston, Jean Paul and Jacky were warmly welcomed and hosted by Team Heart volunteers, including Susan Gabriel, RN, and Kevin McWha, who planned day trips with them and took them to see the city.
“They are my first family,” Jean Paul said. “This whole life I have now is because of Team Heart.”
These days, Jean Paul works as a tour guide driver in Rwanda, a job that enables him to support his family. “From God, it is a blessing. I get to travel all over the country for work,” he said.
Though Jean Paul and Jacky were a bit shocked by the cold temperatures in Boston—and the sight of snow—they have loved every moment of their visit. “I really like Boston. This is where our brothers and sisters are,” he said.
Thankfully, they will also experience some of the warmest weather the country has to offer in Hawaii for the awards ceremony in Kona. The Bolmans accompanied them to Hawaii to support them and celebrate with them. “Jean Paul’s story captured many people’s hearts,” said Ceeya, of his receiving the award. “His giving is so unselfish.”