The Rita and Eric Bigham Cardiology Special Project Fund brings young Afghan girl to UNC for life-saving cardiac care

Rita and Eric Bigham of Chapel Hill have partnered with UNC Cardiovascular Medicine and the Medical Foundation of North Carolina to provide medical treatment for Maryam, a little girl from Afghanistan, who suffers from a heart defect.

The Rita and Eric Bigham Cardiology Special Project Fund brings young Afghan girl to UNC for life-saving cardiac care click to enlarge Eight-year-old Maryam from Afghanistan has a heart defect that needs specialized cardiac care.
The Rita and Eric Bigham Cardiology Special Project Fund brings young Afghan girl to UNC for life-saving cardiac care click to enlarge Rita and Eric Bigham of Chapel Hill created a special cardiology fund to help international children receive cardiac care that they need to survive.

On June 21, a very special guest arrived in North Carolina thanks to a local family with a passion for helping others.

Rita and Eric Bigham of Chapel Hill and the charity Solace for the Children have partnered with UNC Cardiovascular Medicine and the Medical Foundation of North Carolina to provide medical treatment for Maryam, a little girl from Afghanistan, who has suffered from a heart defect her entire life.

Eight-year old Maryam is staying with a host family in Southern Pines, NC and will have her first medical exam at UNC Hospitals on July 2 with Elman Frantz, MD, Chief, Division of Pediatric Cardiology.  Until that time, Maryam will be able to experience what life is like in the United States, plus enjoy an ice-cream social with other children from Afghanistan, who are also in North Carolina receiving treatment for various medical conditions.

Due to the lack of adequate health care professionals and facilities, many Afghan children with treatable heart conditions never get the medical care they desperately need. The UNC Center for Heart & Vascular Care is recognized as a leader in cardiology and cardiothoracic surgery, and is well positioned to provide care for children with congenital heart conditions.

Rita Bigham, a retired school teacher, has an enduring passion for work with children, medical volunteerism, and philanthropic investment. Eric Bigham was a dedicated scientist during his impressive tenure at GlaxoWellcome. Rita has volunteered nearly 1,800 hours at UNC Hospitals in areas ranging from the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit, the N.C. Children’s Hospital, Adult Rehab, and the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, while Eric has logged quite a large number of volunteer hours as well.  At the Bigham household, service is a family affair – even her dog Pippin has contributed more than 1,000 service hours at UNC as a therapy dog.

The Bighams first learned of the charity Solace for the Children through their church, University United Methodist in Chapel Hill.  Through the work of this charity, they knew they could marry their two passions - helping children and cardiac care - by funding opportunities for Solace children with cardiac conditions to receive treatment.

The work of this charity is unique in that, in addition to helping children who would otherwise probably not receive care, the organization also promotes international goodwill to a country and area of the world that is engulfed in conflict, and this resonates with the Bighams.

They also like that this cause provides an opportunity for U.S. troops in Afghanistan to make a difference in the lives of Afghan families and can assist in building trust in the communities in which they temporarily reside.

The cost of Maryam’s cardiac care will be covered by the Rita and Eric Bigham Cardiology Special Project Fund, established through the Medical Foundation of North Carolina.  Remaining funds and new contributions will be used to support additional children in the future, as well as other cardiology-related causes at UNC.  Solace for the Children is coordinating housing and care with Maryam’s host family in the United States, as well as creating educational opportunities for Maryam while she is here.

Cam Patterson, MD, MBA, Physician-in-Chief, UNC Center for Heart and Vascular Care, and Chief, Division of Cardiology, says,  “The generous support from the Bighams allows us to fulfill our mission to train the physicians of the future and to provide cutting edge cardiovascular care to as many people as possible.”

As a resident of Chapel Hill, UNC Hospitals’ volunteer, and devoted fan, Rita’s first choice for Maryam’s treatment was UNC.  Bigham says, “I am very passionate about this cause, and we are thrilled to be able to make cardiac treatment for Maryam come to fruition at UNC.”

After Maryam’s initial medical exam and diagnosis on July 2, Dr. Frantz and Michael Mill, MD, Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, will determine the next course of action, assessing whether Maryam will need a catheter-based procedure or open heart surgery to correct the problem.

Other local events are planned for Maryam and the other Afghan children visiting North Carolina, including a trip to Morehead Planetarium in late July and a cookout with local families.  Maryam is especially excited to “play outside”, as young girls in Afghanistan are not permitted to do this.

Updates on Maryam’s treatment will be posted on news.unchealthcare.org/heartandvascular throughout July.  Follow Maryam on her journey to good cardiac health!

To support similar projects, you may make a contribution to the Rita and Eric Bigham Cardiology Special Project Fund by visiting www.medicalfoundationofnc.org/gift and selecting “Other” for ‘Designation’ and write in “Rita and Eric Bigham Cardiology Special Project Fund” or you can send a check to:

Attn: Brock Matthews, Director of Development

The Medical Foundation of North Carolina, Inc.

880 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd, CB #7565

Chapel Hill, NC 27514