Hero of the Week: Dr. Catalin Cirstoveanu

Imagine if your baby were very, very sick in the NICU, and medical staff who might be able to help save the little one would not – unless you bribed them. That’s been the story for years in Romanian hospitals, where corruption is just part of the system. It’s one of the reasons that 1 in 100 Romanian babies dies in the first year of life.

Enter Catalin Cirstoveanu. He’s in charge of the neonatal unit at the Marie Curie Children’s Hospital, where not a single infant has been treated over the past 18 months, because the medical staff who are needed to run the unit’s state of the art equipment won’t work unless they can supplement their income with bribes, and Cristoveanu has banned staff from taking bribe money. The result: He has no staff.

So Cirstoveanu has made it his mission to save babies who otherwise would die from lack of treatment. He buys tickets on cheap flights to Western Europe, and with a baby in his arms and life-sustaining equipment in tow, he ferries sick infants to hospitals outside of Romania where they will be treated.

Last week, the Associated Press ran a story that detailed Cirtoveanu’s journey with a 13-day-old boy who needed heart surgery. “Cirstoveanu packed a small bag, slipped emergency breathing equipment into the baby carrier and caught a cheap flight to Italy, where doctors were waiting to perform the surgery.” The surgery was successful, the doctor returned to Marie Curie, worked a shift and took off again, this time with a 3-week old girl in need of lmph gland surgery.

Hugs to Dr. Cirtoveanu.
Photograph: Vadim Ghirda / AP