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Open Heart

Documentary Film, Sundance Stories of Change


Story: Open Heart is the story of eight Rwandan children who leave their families behind and embark on a life-or-death journey to the Sudanese hospital, the Salam Center, which is the only facility in Africa capable of high-standard cardiac surgery, free of charge.

While heart disease is often associated with the excesses of Western nations, severe cardiac diseases are extremely prevalent in resource-poor Sub-Saharan Africa. These diseases often result from untreated minor maladies like strep throat, and end up requiring open-heart surgery. Rheumatic heart disease alone kills 300,000 people per year.

The eight Rwandan children, afflicted by rheumatic heart disease, are lethargic and weak because of their damaged hearts. Some have only months to live. This film tells the story of the harrowing fight to save these children’s lives, as well as the tenuous financial future of this critical hospital.

The film was nominated for the 2013 Academy Award for Best Documentary.

Background: While Producer Cori Stern was filming a story in Sudan about the international nonprofit Partners In Health, it became clear that the story concurrently unfolding about the journey of the afflicted Rwandan children merited its own film.

Spurred in part by the challenges highlighted in the film, Partners In Health and the Rwandan Ministry of Health are now working to ensure quality follow-up care for the eight children who received the surgery. A system that aims to help children receive the lifesaving treatment they need in the future is being put in place. In the long term, the aim is to make rheumatic heart disease in Rwanda a thing of the past.