UVA Pediatric Heart Surgeon Leads Team to Dominican Republic

By: Sarah Batista
By: Sarah Batista

June 6, 2006

A note of thanks hangs on the office door of Dr. Benjamin Peeler. He is one of only four pediatric heart surgeons in Virginia.

Using his rare expertise, he recently guided a team of UVa physicians on a week-long trip to the Dominican Republic. They worked tirelessly with doctors in Santo Domingo to repair severe heart defects in babies who could have died without their help.

"These were kids that before now we're really felt to be hopeless, and that there's nothing that they can do, their child is born and diagnosed with critical heart disease and in a lot of the cases we can turn that heart almost into a normal heart," said Dr. Peeler.

In all ,the group performed seven heart operations. Some were simple such as repairing a hole in the heart , others were more severe.

Dr. Peeler is Virginia's only pediatric doctor trained to perform surgeries where the heart is underdeveloped on the left side. His goal is not only to do the surgeries, but also to train the other doctors.

"For us it's been helping them to learn so that they can be self-sufficient, so that five years from now, they can do a lot of these surgeries on their own," explained Dr. Peeler.

"It was great going to see them before we left, to see the results of the surgery and how well the kids were doing after the surgery," said Darnella Buster, a UVa Surgical Technician.

Because the trip was such a success, Dr. Peeler plans to return twice a year and continue working to restore joy in the hearts of those less fortunate.

"We really feel like we perform a pretty vital function that otherwise wouldn't exist," said Dr. Peeler.

The trip was funded and organized by the Richmond-based International Hospital for Children, which provides relief to needy countries.

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