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Dr. Rachel Jamison


In a world where healthcare disparities are glaringly evident, there are heroes who rise to the occasion, transcending borders and breaking barriers. One such hero is Dr. Rachel Jamison, an American pediatric cardiologist who has taken on the monumental task of establishing Guinea's first pediatric center of excellence—Sacre Coeur Pediatric Center.


Guinea, a country of 13 million people, is a land of untapped potential and beauty. Half of its population is under the age of 15, making the need for robust pediatric healthcare not just important, but absolutely critical. Despite this, the country has fewer than 20 pediatricians and, until now, no dedicated pediatric centers. The challenges in Guinea are immense. According to the Human Development Index, Guinea ranks 175 out of 189 countries. The infant and under-5 mortality rates are among the bottom 10% in the world.

In response to the urgent need for high quality childcare in West Africa, Hope Ignited has built the Sacre Coeur Pediatric Center of Excellence. This center aims to be a sanctuary where children and their families can find compassionate, holistic healing. More than just a healthcare facility, it is a training ground where local medical personnel will learn to respond effectively to the healthcare needs of their communities.


Dr. Jamison and her team at Sacre Coeur Pediatric Center are not just dreaming big; they are laying down the groundwork for a healthcare revolution in Guinea. Their ten-year vision is not just a plan but a promise to the children of Guinea—a promise of a healthier, brighter future, ignited by hope.


The Seeds of Hope


From a young age, Dr. Jamison felt a calling to medicine. At just five years old, she began telling her parents she wanted to be a doctor. Inspired by her mother, a physical therapist, and supported by her family, she never wavered from this path. As she grew older, her Christian faith deepened her commitment, making her believe that medicine was more than a career—it was her life's purpose.


Dr. Jamison's journey into medicine was a family affair. Both she and her sister, who are now pediatricians, were encouraged by their parents to pursue their dreams. Despite their parents not having advanced degrees, they instilled in their daughters the belief that they could achieve anything to which they set their minds.


In high school, Dr. Jamison began contemplating the idea of practicing medicine overseas. Influenced by her church upbringing, she felt a strong desire to serve the less fortunate. Her first international experience came in college when she visited Costa Rica and Nicaragua. While the trip affirmed her passion for overseas medicine, it also left her wanting to do more than just short-term engagements. She yearned to be part of a change that was "deeper and more foundational to healthcare overseas."


Path to Guinea


During her college years, Dr. Jamison was introduced to Adam, her future husband and the general director of Hope Ignited. Adam was already committed to working in Guinea, and their lives seemed perfectly aligned. After a brief courtship, they married, united in their mission to serve the people of Guinea.


The Jamison Family


Adam's connection to Guinea came through his father, Chuck Jamison, the founder of Hope Ignited. Initially focused on micro-enterprises like bakeries, the organization evolved to address various needs in Guinea, from prison ministry to pastoral training. When Dr. Jamison visited Guinea with Adam before their wedding, she fell in love with the people and knew that this was where they were meant to be.


After 11 years of medical training, Dr. Jamison and Adam moved to France to learn French, the official language of Guinea. Finally, in January 2019, they made the move to Guinea, fulfilling a dream that had been years in the making. They were joined by close friends and fellow medical professionals, Courtney and Aaron Baldridge, who shared their vision and commitment.

The Baldridge Family


When they arrived in Guinea, they knew medicine would play a significant role in their mission. However, they were cautious about how to approach it. Dr. Jamison had reservations about conducting free clinics, concerned that they could inadvertently harm local healthcare providers and set unsustainable precedents. She felt strongly that any medical work they undertook needed to be both impactful and sustainable.


During their first year in Guinea, Dr. Jamison and her colleague Dr. Courtney Baldridge, also a pediatrician, focused on understanding the local healthcare landscape. They introduced themselves to every pediatrician and pediatric practice they could find, offering patient consults and educational sessions. This period was crucial for them to identify the gaps and limitations in the Guinean health system.


Pediatric and Healthcare Hurdles in Guinea


One of the most glaring issues they discovered was the fragmentation in pediatric care. For example, a child with multiple health issues like HIV and tuberculosis would have to visit multiple locations for different treatments, making it difficult for families to navigate the healthcare system. This fragmentation also impacted medical education, as students would only see a small portion of a patient's care journey, limiting their learning experience.


Another challenge was the cultural resistance to sharing knowledge. In Guinea, those with higher levels of education often hoard their knowledge to maintain a position of power. This culture made it difficult for Dr. Jamison and her team, particularly as young females in a male-dominated society, to establish educational programs and bring about change.


Faced with these challenges, Dr. Jamison and her team felt the need to create a new paradigm for pediatric healthcare in Guinea. They envisioned the Sacre Coeur Pediatric Center of Excellence as a place that would offer holistic care for children from 0 to 18 years old, covering everything from vaccinations to surgical care. They also wanted to create a culture where knowledge sharing was central, and high-quality training was accessible to all healthcare providers.


First Steps


Initially, the team thought the center would be much smaller. However, as they started to share their vision, they found overwhelming support from individuals, families, churches, and organizations like Mercy Ships, an international charity that operates the largest non-governmental hospital ships in the world. Most of their funding came from people who were excited to support their mission, allowing them to build a facility four times the size of their original plans.


The Sacre Coeur Pediatric Center of Excellence


As it stands, Hope Ignited's Sacre Coeur Pediatric Center is primarily focused on ambulatory care, offering outpatient consultations across a range of specialties, from general pediatrics to pediatric cardiology. This focus was intentional, as Dr. Jamison and her team wanted to ensure that education remained at the core of their mission. With less than 15 pediatricians in the entire country, the team knew they would have to train general medicine doctors in pediatrics, a process that couldn't be rushed.


Even though Sacre Coeur Pediatric Center had its grand opening just three months ago, its impact is already being felt across Guinea. Before the official opening, the center was already seeing about 20 pediatric patients a day during its soft launch—a number that has since more than tripled. The team is now having to cap patient numbers due to the overwhelming demand, a clear indicator of the dire need for specialized pediatric care in the region.


Growing Pains


The center is grappling with the logistical challenges that come with such rapid growth. Families are arriving as early as 2 or 3 a.m. to secure a spot in line, a situation the team is keen to address. "We're trying to figure out ways of making it so that people don't have to show up at 3 a.m. in order to receive high quality pediatric care." says Dr. Jamison.


Dr. Jamison's proudest accomplishment is the remarkable growth and development of her staff at Sacre Coeur Pediatric Center. "We started from square one," she says, recalling the early days when it took an entire day to see just four patients. "It took our nurses an hour to do vital signs on one kid because they had never done pediatric nursing." Fast forward a few months, and the same nurses are now identifying critically ill children in triage, managing urgent care effectively and assisting in complex procedures. The doctors, too, have reached a level of competence where they can see patients independently. "They still are hungry to learn more, and they get huge smiles on their face when we teach them something new," Dr. Jamison adds. This transformation is not just a testament to their hard work but also a validation of the center's vision. "It just means that this will work," she says, "that it's really possible to have an excellent pediatric center in a place with such immense needs.”


Dr. Jamison also finds encouragement from the parents they serve. As a pediatric cardiologist, she often has the difficult task of delivering devastating news to parents. "In a place where there is no cardiac surgery, it's even worse because it really is a death sentence for their kids," she says. However, through partnerships with other nonprofits, they've been able to send around 20 children to France for life-saving surgeries. Even more humbling is the gratitude expressed by parents who have lost a child. "Even in their darkest moments, they look up at us and say, 'Thank you so much for trying,'" Dr. Jamison shares. “These parents often return with

their newborns, entrusting them to the care of the center.”


While the center hasn't yet started receiving patients from neighboring countries, it has already attracted families from almost every region of Guinea. Some travel from as far as the border of Mali, often spending the night outside the center's gates to ensure they're seen. This level of commitment from families highlights not only the scarcity of quality pediatric care but also the trust and hope that the center has instilled in these communities in such a short time.


A Vision for Hope


The team uses their urgent care facility as a training ground to prepare for the next big step: inpatient medicine. The urgent care unit serves as a crucial stabilizing point for patients before they are transferred to a hospital, offering a vital service in a country where healthcare is often sought too late.


Within the next five years, Dr. Jamison envisions the center evolving into a full-fledged hospital capable of overnight inpatient care. In the long term, Dr. Jamison also hopes that the center will be doing many more well-child checks to prevent health issues from escalating to the point of requiring urgent care. "Kids would be doing much better if they had come two or three days earlier or even a year or two before they present to care," she notes.


Looking a decade ahead, the vision expands dramatically. Dr. Jamison sees Sacre Coeur as a regional reference pediatric hospital, offering everything from general care to ICU-level treatments. As a pediatric cardiologist, she dreams of the center having the capabilities for heart catheterization and even heart surgeries, which would require a high level of technology and expertise.


But the vision doesn't stop at the hospital's walls. Dr. Jamison aims to establish a pediatric residency program to train the next generation of pediatricians who can serve different parts of Guinea. The ultimate goal is to support these trained doctors in establishing smaller outpatient clinics across the country, effectively decentralizing pediatric care and making it more accessible.


The team already has a community health unit that conducts follow-up visits and public health outreach. The team is focused on identifying potential issues before children become too sick, encouraging vaccinations and offering spiritual support, especially after difficult news or a death in the family. The goal is to shift the focus towards preventive care and early intervention, reducing the need for families to travel long distances for urgent issues. "We're doing a lot of this stuff out in the communities, so that those kids don't have to travel three or four or 10 hours to get a visit with us. The vision for the future is to have satellite clinics" Dr. Jamison explains.


Dr. Jamison's husband, Adam, who serves as the Executive Director of Hope Ignited and is also an Anglican priest, envisions a parallel growth in the spiritual component of their mission. They aim to train church leaders to provide spiritual and emotional support to families, especially those dealing with severe illnesses or loss.


Today, the Sacre Coeur Pediatric Center is not just a healthcare facility; it's a model for what pediatric medicine can look like in Guinea. The center has follow-up systems to ensure children don't fall through the cracks, and it offers lodging for international teams and visitors, making it easier for them to contribute to this vital work.

Dr. Jamison and her team have big dreams for what comes next. They are excited about the pace at which things are moving and are incredibly grateful for the support they have received. Through their work, they aim to rewrite the story of pediatric healthcare in Guinea, offering a beacon of hope and a model to follow. In a landscape fraught with challenges, Dr. Jamison and her team at Sacre Coeur Pediatric Center are proving that with vision, dedication, and community support, transformative change is possible. They are not just providing medical care; they are igniting hope for a brighter, healthier future for the children of Guinea.

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