Graduate student Tara Mendieta, a registered nurse, assisted the medical team that conducted the first organ transplant in Haiti. Today, she spreads the word about the lifesaving promise of being an organ donor.
It was an honor for me to be asked to participate in this firstof-its-kind operation,” says Tara Mendieta, a registered nurse and graduate student at the School of Nursing and Health Studies.
Most students start making headlines after graduation, but in Mendieta’s case, her advanced hands-on work with transplants at Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU) made her a perfect participant in Haiti’s first organ transplant. She also has a personal connection to the process.
“My husband has a transplanted kidney (he was born with bilateral hydronephrosis). The transplant was performed by Drs. George Burke and Gaetano Ciancio, so our experience extends beyond the bedside,” says
Mendieta, who graduates in December with dual certification from the school as an acute care/adult nurse practitioner.
Light years of medical innovations seemed to separate Haiti from Mendieta in Miami. But in late 2009, skill and opportunity bridged that gap, linking her with 63-year-old Haitian obstetrician Jean Boisrond,
MD. He was experiencing renal failure, and the only hope of survival was a kidney transplant.
On November 30, 2009, Haiti’s former Minister of Health got his second chance at life. The transplant team was led by fellow countryman and former surgical fellow at the Miami Transplant Institute at UM/Jackson, Jacques Jeudy, MD. Joining him were Burke, Ciancio, Mendieta and her husband, Erik Mendieta, RN; Ernesto Prieto, MD; and Magalie Martial-Paul, RN.
The operation would never have happened if it wasn’t for Dr. Jeudy’s initial efforts. In 2008, after trying for years to establish an infrastructure for such surgeries in Haiti, he finally founded a transplant program there.
With a foundation, a patient and a donor (Boisrond’s niece) in place, all that was needed was a competent transplant team to complete the circle. “Dr. Jeudy approached my husband and I about three years ago and asked if we would be interested in going to Haiti when the time came. I said ‘yes’ back then, and then we received his call three years later,” Mendieta recalls.
Flight delays, security glitches and contaminated equipment resulted in a late start on the 11-hour surgery. Once completed, the transplant was deemed a success.
In January 2010, however, Boisrond died as a result of the earthquake that devastated his country.This sad ending to a triumphant medical beginning hasn’t dimmed Mendieta’s goal to bring awareness to organ donation. If anything, the experience has strengthened her resolve to educate and help. Asked if she would return to Haiti to assist in another transplant, she says: “I’d go in a heartbeat.”