Mission to Heal

Bart Hensler with a child in Mongolia. (Photo copyright Bart Hensler)

When I awoke this morning, I had an enormous sense of peace and gratitude. Our family is healthy, our house is full of happy people, things and memories, and my favorite yellow flowers are blooming in the yard. Not everyone in the world is so fortunate, of course. Yet this month I have not one but two friends venturing out into it to help save lives through medical missionary work. The following story, written by me about a friend’s husband, appeared in a neighborhood publication of the Boerne Star.

For almost 22 years, Bart Hensler of Leon Springs has worked as a perfusionist, managing state-of-the-art heart-lung machines that keep cardiac patients alive while surgeons perform complicated and delicate work on still hearts. Currently employed by an independent medical contractor, he spends most of his time at Methodist.

At least once a year for the last few years Hensler has traded in his big city gig for a medical mission trip to Mongolia.

“Back in 2005 a surgeon and pediatric cardiologist whom I work with needed a perfusionist for a medical mission trip,” said Hensler. “That first time I went in part because there was a need and also because I had always thought in my mind that mission work would be great. But I hadn’t ever found the right opportunity to go. This chance came along and it was at the right time and the right place.”

For Hearts and Souls , a ten-year-old Christian non-profit founded by pediatric cardiologist Kirk Milhoan with a mission to help and heal “broken hearts,” provided Hensler with a memorable first trip.

“For the organization, presenting the gospel is foremost. After that, we’re there to teach local people what we’re doing here in the surgical sense. What we found that first time was a place where doctors still treated patients in ways that you would have found us working (stateside) forty or fifty years ago.”

For Hearts and Souls works not only to evangelize and treat children but also to teach doctors and other medical practitioners contemporary best practices. The organization achieves these goals by actively seeking out and screening large groups of children for cardiac defects, determining whom among them may be good surgical candidates, and then operating on the children most likely to survive and benefit from the procedure. The For Hearts and Souls team members also observe, converse with, and instruct local doctors and nurses with the help of translators.

“We fly to our destination individually or in groups. The size of a team on an individual trip varies, but it could be up to 35 or 40 people from all over the United States, including surgeons, an anesthesiologist, ICU and OR nurses, child life specialists, a chaplain, and even biomedical technicians to keep the machines running. We take with us people in every surgical sub-specialty that you can think of,” said Hensler.

Through the organization, Hensler said that he and the other medical team members have taken the country’s medical specialists “from 50 to 60-year-old techniques to fairly modern capabilities in a very short time.”

Hensler said that when For Hearts and Souls launched, Milhoan had a vision to visit every province in Mongolia. In September, Hensler returned to Mongolia with a mission to the last remaining province.

“We’ve slowly set up a network so these kids can be seen and if there’s a problem, then it can be addressed in Mongolia by their medical specialists. It has been horrible to go there on trips and find an 8, 9 or 10 year-old kid who now has an inoperable cardiac condition because no intervention was made in time. I can’t describe for you the pain our doctors feel when they have to tell parents that we cannot help, especially when we all know that no kid in a modern medical society would be left like that.”

Hensler is preparing for his next trip, a visit to Nepal in November.

“We’re going to a conference in Kathmandu where our team members will give lectures. They have a more robust surgical capability there. We’ll go to the conference and do some clinical work to give them pointers. “

While more time may be spent with medical professionals on the next trip, helping children will remain top of mind.

“There is only a certain number of kids who can be taken out of the country for treatment,” said Hensler. “We’ll be working to help local doctors improve their ability to treat their own kids.”

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Mission to Heal