Two docs together outside OR
Dr. Maurice Musoni Mutabaruka (L) is Rwanda’s first and only cardiac surgeon. He recently visited Dr. RJ Cusimano, a cardiac surgeon at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, to observe and learn new strategies that willl help in creating a sustainable cardiac program in his country. (Photo: UHN)

Two men from very different worlds sharing a common bond – to learn from each other.

Dr. RJ Cusimano, a cardiac surgeon at Peter Munk Cardiac Centre and one of the world's experts in cardiac tumours, was happy to be shadowed by Dr. Maurice Musoni Mutabaruka, the first and only heart surgeon in Rwanda, a country which has had to rebuild its infrastructure over the past generation.

While Dr. Musoni's visit may have lasted only four days, the opportunity for both surgeons to learn new skills and techniques will be remembered for much longer.

"When you meet people from all over the world, you always take something away from them and how they do things," says Dr. Cusimano, who has mentored others throughout his career and jumped at this opportunity. "We always learn something from each other, it's not just a one-way street."

Dr. Musoni, who completed his cardiac surgical training in South Africa this past April before returning home, says despite an "overwhelmingly positive" response in Rwanda he's also realized there are huge challenges in building infrastructure, finding funding and assembling a cardiac team.

It's one of the reasons Dr. Musoni came to observe Dr. Cusimano – to help build his network and learn new strategies that will help him in creating a sustainable cardiac program.

Dr. Musoni knew early in life that he wanted to become a doctor. He was encouraged by his parents, both schoolteachers, and drew inspiration from his uncle who practiced veterinary medicine. As he grew older, a new factor began to motivate him – Rwanda's desperate need for medical personnel.

Rwanda has a population of more than 12 million people and is just beginning to set up a cardiovascular surgery program. Over the past decade, humanitarian organizations from around the world have been visiting Rwanda to spend a week or so operating on patients with heart problems. Unfortunately, due to limited spots, the number of patients able to have surgery is just a fraction of those who need it.

'I'm pleased to have made a friendship with him'

"My interest in the heart began when I first met with these organizations," says Dr. Musoni. "Now, we are discussing the next phase of cardiac surgery in Rwanda, which means developing a sustainable program – not just a sporadic visit.

"We want something that is continuous and will help us to grow."

Dr. Musoni says his visit to the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre with Dr. Cusimano has taught him a lot about how he may want to run his cardiac program back home.

"I'm learning how your system operates in an efficient manner and how every aspect of the structure works with the other," says Dr. Musoni. "That's important for me as a surgeon who is pioneering a program – I hope to translate and extrapolate that back home."

Dr. Cusimano remarks how grateful he is to have had the opportunity to meet Dr. Musoni.

"In his whole country, he decided on his own to go to take on a role that's never been taken on before," says Dr. Cusimano. "That's a big, big, big task – only a special person can do that.

"I'm pleased to have made a friendship with him."

Dr. Musoni is hoping to have Rwanda's first cardiovascular surgery program up and running in five years, operating on 300 to 400 patients annually.

"We're on the right path," says Dr. Musoni. "It's going to take time and effort.

"But I think it's achievable."

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