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On Valentine’s Day, Boston doctors leave for Rwanda to mend hearts

While some jilted lovers in the United States will spend Valentine’s Day mourning broken hearts, a team of doctors and nurses from Boston will travel overseas to fix hearts.

A group called Team Heart, composed of volunteers from 12 states, is scheduled to embark Saturday on an annual trip to provide medical care in Rwanda.

Dr. Ralph “Chip” Bolman, a heart surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, founded Team Heart eight years ago with his wife, Ceeya Patton-Bolman, a registered nurse.

The project screens and treats young people in Rwanda for strep throat and performs heart surgery on patients stricken with rheumatic heart disease, which can develop if strep goes untreated, Bolman said. This year, 26 health workers from Boston — they pay their own way, and use donated supplies — are expected to travel on the mission.


“We can take care of and prevent this over here,” Bolman said. “But in Rwanda . . . it’s an enormous problem.”

The African nation’s health care system was sundered by the genocidal attacks of 1994, and, two decades later, deaths from rheumatic heart disease remain common. That’s why the Boston team is going to help.

“Ultimately,” Bolman said, “we want to turn over the operation to doctors in Rwanda.”

Team Heart plans to raise money to build a hospital in Kigali, the country’s capital, he said.

One of the project’s former patients, a young man who was transported to the United States for advanced treatment and rehabilitation, is now in medical school in Rwanda, Bolman said.

“When you see things come full circle like that,” the doctor said, “it’s hard to overstate the meaning.”

M.G. Lee can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @m_g_lee.