Mission Global Health: A Conversation with Melissa Held, MD

Melissa Held, MD is a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Connecticut Children’s. Her passion for improving health outcomes for children around the world began early in her career. Recently, she partnered with Connecticut Children’s Center for Global Health to develop a program focusing on the health needs of refugees.

What led you to take your medical expertise to a global level?

I have always had an interest in global child health. During my infectious disease fellowship, my research focused on the relationship between nutrition and the severity of parasitic infections, namely hookworm disease. I was a main preceptor at the Yale Refugee clinic during my training and have always wanted to start a program like that here at Connecticut Children’s.

I am primarily a medical educator and so have worked to create curricula for pediatric residents in global child health. With the help of one of the Pediatric Chief Residents, we created a Global Child Health elective that ran for four years. It was a one-month experience that combined medical knowledge and skills training in global child health.

One of the four weeks was spent at two small towns in rural Guatemala, providing much needed routine well child visits to two schools sponsored by Niños de Guatemala. We would bring 4 pediatric residents with us and not only performed health assessments, but also provided educational sessions to families in the villages on topics they requested.

What is one global health experience that had a significant impact on you?

One experience I remember the most, was a young girl about the age of 8 who came to see us in the hot Guatemalan weather wearing a fleece jacket and long pants. One of the residents who was examining her told me she heard a heart murmur. It was indeed a very loud murmur and through further history we found that the child also had exercise intolerance and said she felt cold all the time. She also had other physical findings consistent with congenital heart disease.

We were able to work with the school to coordinate her evaluation by a cardiologist at a major medical center in Guatemala City. She was found to have a significant heart defect that required surgical repair. One of the cardiothoracic surgeons in the area performed the procedure at a low rate for the family. We had follow up later on that the child was doing beautifully!

What inspired you to create a program specifically designed to address the health needs of refugees?

Although I have not been able to do much traveling the past few years, I felt there was a gap to fill in the area of refugee and displaced family health through Connecticut Children’s. I believed that this was the right time to initiate this program and with the help and encouragement of others, especially Dr. Adam Silverman, have been able to work on the development of this clinic. We plan to provide initial health evaluations and support for refugee children and children of displaced families and provide our ongoing care to children with travel-related healthcare needs.

Learn more about the Connecticut Children’s Center for Global Health

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