Press Releases


22 undergo open-heart surgery at UNTH

By Ihuoma Chiedozie on March 15, 2016

Twenty-two patients, who were suffering from various heart diseases, have undergone open-heart surgery at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Ituku-Ozala, Enugu.

The Chief Medical Director of UNTH, Dr Christopher Amah, said the operation on the 22 patients was the 12th edition of the hospital’s open-heart surgery exercise.

The UNTH open-heart surgery, which is supported by VOOM Foundation, an international medical humanitarian organisation, founded by a United States-based Nigerian, Vincent Ohaju, commenced in 2013.

About 120 patients, including children and adults, had successfully undergone open-heart surgery since the programme started, according to Amah.

He explained that the cost of the operation was heavily subsidised to make it affordable to members of the public.

The CMD expressed the hope that the programme would help to reduce the number of Nigerians, who travelled abroad for similar treatment.

Amah added that among the 22 patients who were operated upon, two were sponsored by the National Health Insurance Scheme, while one came from the Office of the Head of Service.

Two others, who he described as “indigent patients”, were sponsored by a foreign charity foundation.

The others, he added, paid for themselves.

“Our target is to do at least 100 open-heart surgery each year, but if we have the support we need, we could scale it up to 150 or 200 operations annually,” Amah added.

In an interview with our correspondent, one of the patients, Ikenna Amobi, thanked God for a successful surgery.

He said, “I thank God for a successful surgery. Before I came here, I prayed that everything would go well and I am very grateful.

“I have been sick for a long time. I am very happy that my heart condition has been taken care of at last.”

Amobi also expressed gratitude to the hospital and the doctors who performed the surgery on him.

Open-heart surgery was suspended in UNTH for about 10 years before VOOM Foundation commenced a partnership project with the institution.

The suspension followed the hospital’s movement from its old site within the Enugu metropolis to the permanent site at Ituku-Ozala, a distance of about 15 minutes drive from Enugu.

The partnership with VOOM Foundation led to the re-activation of the hospital’s cardiovascular surgery centre, where open-heart surgery is performed.


Nigeria: Unth Performs 130 Open Heart Surgeries

By Christopher Isiguzo on March 11, 2016

The University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Enugu, says it has successfully carried out Open Heart Surgeries (OHS) on at least 130 persons since the recommencement of the programme in the hospital in March 2013.

This is coming as the hospital raised the alarm that over five per cent of the nation's population may be living with Surgically Amenable Conditions, and asked governments at all levels to earmark resources to arrest the situation before it degenerates to an unmanageable level.

Briefing newsmen at the hospital on the resumption of the 12th session of the programme from which a total of 22 patients are expected to benefit, the UNTH Chief Medical Director, Dr Chris Amah, said another vital facility to the open heart surgery, the Cardiac Catheterization laboratory had been acquired and installed in the hospital with about 15 patients already benefitting from it.

Amah noted that the hospital would want to carry out at least 100 open heart surgeries annually if enabled by funding, noting that because of the huge financial involvement in carrying out the exercise coupled with the fact that most people with heart related diseases are poor, most people were yet to take advantage of the exercise in the hospital.

"I can tell you that if we have improved funding, we can even handle 200 cases per annum and this will save this country huge sums of money that ordinarily would have left the country through capital flight," he said. 

He said out of the 22 patients slated to be operated upon, two persons received sponsorship from the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), another patient received sponsorship from the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation, while their partners from the VOOM Foundation led by Dr Vincent Ohaju are taking care of two indigent persons.


St. Joseph doctor leads the effort to improve medical care in Nigeria

By Steve Kuhlmann on November 29, 2015

While he may be new to the Bryan-College Station community, St. Joseph's new Trauma Medical Director Dr. Vincent Ohaju is being called both a perfect fit and a valuable asset to the area -- not only for the work he does right here at home, but around the world as well.

Ohaju, who grew up in Nigeria before coming to America to work his way through college in 1982, founded the nonprofit VOOM foundation in 2004 while working as a doctor in Duluth, Minnesota, as a way to help provide medical services to the people of Nigeria.

"Our mission, vision and values for St. Joseph are faith-based and he fits right in," Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mack Blanton said. "When we heard that he also goes back to [Nigeria] and does mission work there annually, we were fully supportive of that. We understand that it's important to him and it's important to this community to have somebody like him who will do those types of things."

The foundation's mission, Ohaju said, is a personal one. In 1983, just a year after leaving Nigeria, Ohaju's father died of pulmonary aspiration -- a condition that he said would have been easily treated had he been in a country like the United States where the health care system is properly equipped to deal with it.

"Many Nigerians since then have been dying for far less, and yet it has been more than 30 years," Ohaju said. "That is what led me to start a foundation that hopefully will help us to try to elevate the standard of care in the country and care for people like my dad."

The foundation's first trip to Nigeria was in 2011, Ohaju said, and it was purely an educational trip. After arriving, he said the team quickly discovered that there was a "tremendous amount of need on the clinical front."

"In Nigeria, where there is a dichotomy between the very wealthy and the very poor, the government hospitals are poorly equipped, poorly staffed and people seldom want to go to the hospital," Ohaju said. "In the private hospitals, they don't have a whole lot, but you get much better care if you can afford to pay for it, and the majority of the population can't."

After identifying that need, Ohaju said that the medical volunteers returned in 2013 for their first two-week clinical mission. Since then, he said the clinical trips have focused primarily on open heart surgery.

"We found out that in a country of 170 plus million people, there was not a single place where you could get open heart surgery," Ohaju said. "Here [in the Bryan-College Station area] you can go to St. Joseph, the Med or Scott and White and have open heart surgery."

While the foundation began with six cases on its first trip in 2013 "just to prove that it could be done," Ohaju said that during the next trip his team hopes to treat about 40 patients.

In addition to the services Ohaju and the other medical professionals who volunteer their time provide during their two-week medical mission trips, Ohaju emphasized an equally important aspect of the foundation's mission is to train, equip and improve the skills of the local Nigerian health care professionals so that they may -- eventually -- be prepared to continue the life-saving services year-round.

"We decided that our focus was not just going to be going in there and doing medical missions," Ohaju said. "I wanted to make sure that the people there would be able to be taken care of. If that is not the case, people like my father will still be dying 30 years from now because they have to wait for the next mission to come back."

He said that they began by having local medical professionals observe the team as they treated patients and slowly worked them up to actively participating.

"During the last two missions, the locals got to start and complete two cases," Ohaju said. "That is a tremendous achievement in two years, for cardiac surgery especially."

Ultimately, Ohaju said they hope to get to the point where the foundation can send just a "skeleton crew" for reference on the missions and let the local medical professionals lead the treatment of the patients.

While Ohaju and his team focused exclusively on pediatric patients during the last trip, he said that in the trip this coming spring, they plan to bring two full 16-member teams -- one to work with the pediatric patients and the other to focus on adults.

Ohaju said while the foundation's efforts have certainly made an impact, they have only "scratched the surface" of the need in Nigeria.

"The mission isn't going to end any time soon, that's just the bottom line," Ohaju said. "This is a life-long effort that will extend well beyond my life. I'm just hoping that we're able to structure something that is strong enough to carry on beyond that time."

Since arriving at St. Joseph earlier this year, Blanton said Ohaju has worked hard to continue building the hospital's trauma program.

"For patients who are injured with any type of trauma, they can now come here closer to home and we can take care of them as well as any place down in the Texas Medical Center, Ben Taub or anything like that," Blanton said. "He brings a tremendous skill set as a trauma surgeon and just a background of leadership also... His method of interaction is incredibly collegial and [he is] just a pleasant person. He understands people and we're just fortunate to have him here and to have him in this community."

In addition to always searching for more medical professionals from around the country and the world to volunteer their time for the missions, the VOOM Foundation also relies on donations to help provide the hospital in Nigeria with the proper medications and equipment it needs to care for its patients.

Among the items on the foundation's "wish list" are hematology lab equipment, mechanical heart valves, cardiac monitors, hospital beds, antibiotics, epinephrine and insulin.


Health minister re-opens UNTH open heart surgery unit

By Emmanuel Uzodinma on March 26, 2013

The University of Nigeria’s Teaching Hospital,UNTH, Enugu has resuscitated its open heart surgery unit.­ The unit was suspended ten years ago, following its movement from an old site within the Enugu metropolis to its permanent site at Ituku-Ozala. Nigeria’s Minister of Health, Prof Onyebuchi Chukwu, who commissioned the unit, Monday, congratulated the Management of the UNTH for resuscitating the open heart surgery programme, noting that it was in line with the transformation programme of President Goodluck Jonathan’s led administration.

He has insisted that given the intelligence of Nigerians, there is no reason why medical skills should not be available in Nigeria. A situation where people are flown abroad for medical missions is not the best for us. His vision is already yielding positive results,” the Minister noted. He said that unlike in the past where few hospitals were designated as centres of excellence, all Federal teaching hospitals were now centres of excellence.

While pledging the support of the federal government to the programme at UNTH, Prof. Chukwu urged them to remain focused, adding that he would encourage the Kanu Heart Foundation to move some of their patients to the hospitals as it would reduce the cost of taking them abroad for treatment. In a remark, the UNTH, Chief Medical Director, Dr Chris Amah said the hospital suspended the exercise about ten years ago following its movement from its former site and the absence of the necessary facilities needed for such exercise.  He noted that upon assumption of office about two years ago, he decided to resuscitate the programme by partnering with foreign organizations since it would be difficult to use the local surgeons to re-commence the exercise when they had not done it for the past ten years.  He disclosed that the hospital is currently partnering with a United States based Non-Governmental Organisation, the VOOM Foundation, also known as the Vincent Ohaji Memorial Foundation that led a team of 14 medical experts to Nigeria for the sole purpose of resuscitating the programme at the UNTH.

Vincent led a team of 14 experts, 11, US, 2 from UK, one from Canada, 4 cardiac surgeons, 2 Cardiac nurses and the rest of them.  Interestingly, two of them are Nigerians and alumni of this place. They are practicing in the UK.  Since they arrived, on March 18, they have handled four cases. We want to stem the tide of medical mission to India and so on. This is a programme that we are all committed to sustain.  The medical mission is planning to come every two to three months until our own local surgeons have their hands strong and firm on it, before they start delaying. Another mission is planned for May, another July. Before the end of this year, we will have four missions. We want to make sure that before the next mission, some of the deficits we have noticed would have been rectified”, he said.  He explained that it takes about two million naira for a patient to be fully treated of heart related ailment, but because of the subsidization of the surgery by VOOM foundation and other organizations across the globe, the cost had been reduced to N500,000.


He pleaded with other organizations as well as public spirited individuals to also provide further support for the hospital in order to ensure the sustenance of the programme. He said: “After this programme, Nigerians should be able to buy one or two open heart surgeries for citizens who would enable us to do it even free for the people. This is a sort of campaign we want to embark on for now”.



Nigeria:  UNTH Resumes Open Heart Surgery, Operates Five Successfully

By Tony Edike on March 27, 2013

Enugu - THE University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, UNTH, Enugu, has resuscitated its cardiovascular surgery, otherwise known as open heart surgery, ten years after the service was suspended on account of the hospital's movement from its old site within the Enugu metropolis to the permanent site at Ituku-Ozala.

The hospital, under the new programme being handled in collaboration with a United States-based non-governmental organization, the VOOM Foundation, has performed five open heart surgeries on patients with heart related ailments.

About 10 other patients with heart related ailments, including six-year-old Sadia Ibrahim from Sokoto State, now on admission would be operated during the second phase of the programme by the medical experts, who left the country after the first phase of the operations yesterday. 

Speaking when the Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, visited to witness a live surgery at the hospital, the Chief Medical Director, Dr. Chris Amah, said the hospital, which is a Federal Government designated centre of excellence for open heart surgery, suspended the exercise about ten years ago.