The Heart Dialogues: 10 days in Haiti, 12 children’s heart repairs

  • The Heart Dialogues | Writer Leigh Kamping-Carder  •   2023

The documentary “Open Hearts” tells the story of a team of doctors who perform children’s heart surgeries in Haiti. Photo: Vincenzo Bruno – The goal was simple: Spend 10 days in Haiti and repair a dozen children’s hearts.

The documentary “Open Hearts” tells the story of Dr. Jeff Kempf and a team from Akron Children’s Hospital in Ohio, surgeons from Italy, and local doctors and nurses who came together at Port-au-Prince’s St. Damien Pediatric Hospital to operate on 12 kids with congenital heart defects.

About 500 children are born with heart abnormalities in Haiti every year, but the country lacks specialist care, Dr. Jacqueline Gautier, CEO of St. Damien, said in the film. So the team also had a larger goal: to empower local medical personnel to provide ongoing pediatric cardiology care. A cadre of St. Damien staffers came to Akron for a six-week training program before the January 2017 trip, and one staffer who appears in “Open Hearts” ultimately became Haiti’s first pediatric cardiologist, according to the film.

Co-directors Travis Pollert and Jacob Kostelli shot roughly 100 hours of footage, about half in Akron and half in Port-au-Prince. (Kostelli died this past January.) They captured doctors grappling with the lack of illumination in the operating room, at one point trying to use the film crew’s lights. They were flies on the wall as the team decides who will get the operations: Some 300 children applied, but only 12 would get the lifesaving treatment.

Pollert, 38, founder of the Cleveland Film Company, doesn’t have a personal connection to CHD. In 2015, a film festival had organized a screening of one of his short films at a local rotary club. There, he met Ken Fogle, the chairman of Gift of Life Northeast Ohio, a nonprofit that provides cardiac care to children in the developing world. Fogle connected him with Kempf, a retired physician at Akron Children’s, who had been working on bringing medical care and education to Haiti since the country’s deadly 2010 earthquake.

“Open Hearts” co-directors Jacob Kostelli, left, and Travis Pollert

“Open Hearts” co-directors Jacob Kostelli, left, and Travis Pollert

From Writer Leigh Kamping-Carder

Have you watched “Open Hearts” or other documentaries about CHD? I always love to hear what you think! Feel free to email me at

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