CHARLOTTE, N.C., Nov. 26, 2014 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Chiquita Brands International (NYSE:CQB) and the International Medical Outreach (IMO) program, a partnership between Carolinas HealthCare System and the Heineman Foundation of Charlotte, celebrated the opening of two echocardiography laboratories in regional hospitals in Zacapa and Quiché, in Guatemala. In attendance was the First Lady of Guatemala, Rosa María Leal de Pérez, who over the past year has worked with the Charlotte-based organizations to equip hospitals and clinics in need with medical services and supplies.

The IMO program donated echocardiography (echo) machines to the two hospitals and helped train technicians to operate the machines and to work with cardiologists to identify patients with heart ailments. The machines were transported by Chiquita Brands vessels to Guatemala. Echo machines are one of today's most basic tools used to diagnose heart problems but are not readily available to patients in rural areas in Central America.

"The echo laboratories provide access to healthcare for thousands of patients, bring cardiac diagnosis into the modern age, and facilitate the delivery of life-saving cardiac services at very low or no cost," said Francis Robicsek, MD, PhD, vice president of the IMO program, who was honored by Guatemala's First Lady in May 2014 for his work through IMO. "We are thankful for our committed partners and look forward to continuing our mission to develop sustainable cardiac care in Central America."

Since May 2013, the IMO program and Chiquita have collaborated to distribute medical and computer supplies to hospitals, clinics and public schools throughout Central America. They have together transported more than 20 containers that have provided 11 hospitals and rural clinics with medical equipment, and delivered more than 7,500 computers to 500 public schools.

"We are grateful for this partnership to improve access to quality healthcare and build healthier communities everywhere we operate," said Manuel Rodriguez, Chiquita's corporate responsibility officer. "Improving lives is embedded within Chiquita's purpose; we join our Charlotte colleagues in celebrating this occasion for the people of Guatemala and look forward to helping many more through our joint creativity and commitment."

The echo lab openings in Zacapa and Quiché are part of an Echo Lab Network project launched in 2010 by the IMO program and Guatemala's cardiac center, UNICAR. The project, supported by the Dickson Family Foundation and Edwards Lifesciences Foundation, aims to provide 13 rural hospitals in Central America with fully-functional echo labs. In Guatemala, eight rural hospitals now have these labs and have provided more than 12,300 echocardiograms to thousands of patients. 

The echo labs are operated by technicians trained at UNICAR and at Carolinas HealthCare System's Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute. To date, seven Guatemalan technicians have been trained with support from the IMO program. Hospitals that don't have cardiologists on staff to read echocardiography results refer them to UNICAR, Central America's most comprehensive cardiac center which performs more than 700 open heart operations per year.

"The network represents a major advancement in the way we provide cardiac care to patients with heart ailments in Guatemala," said José Raúl Cruz Molina, MD, medical director of UNICAR. "We are proud to have worked with the IMO program for more than four decades on innovative projects like this one, and we look forward to our continued partnership, which allows us to leverage the resources of medical experts in Guatemala and at Carolinas HealthCare System."

Since the 1960s, the IMO program has donated medical equipment and supplies to hospitals and clinics in more than 30 countries, and it facilitates free educational opportunities for medical personnel from facilities globally. In Guatemala, this includes the donation of HVAC units to clinics in need, with support from AirTight, and of equipment to an intensive care unit in a hospital in Quetzaltenango. In 2013 alone, IMO donated medical and computer equipment worldwide worth more than $4.3 million, if purchased new.

Chiquita Brands International, Inc.

Chiquita Brands International, Inc. (NYSE:CQB) is a leading international marketer and distributor of nutritious, high-quality fresh and value-added food products – from energy-rich bananas, blends of convenient green salads and other fruits to healthy snacking products. The company markets its healthy, fresh products under the Chiquita® and Fresh Express® premium brands and other related trademarks. With annual revenues of more than $3 billion, Chiquita employs approximately 20,000 people and has operations in nearly 70 countries worldwide. For more information, please visit

The Heineman Foundation of Charlotte

Since its establishment in 1943, the Heineman Foundation of Charlotte has pursued a variety of local and international research and humanitarian projects focused on providing medical assistance and education. Located on the campus of Carolinas HealthCare System's Carolinas Medical Center, Heineman works closely with the System to provide medical training focused on cardiac care to health providers overseas, as well as medical equipment and supplies to medically underserved countries.

Carolinas HealthCare System

Carolinas HealthCare System (, one of the nation's leading and most innovative healthcare organizations, provides a full spectrum of healthcare and wellness programs throughout North and South Carolina. Its diverse network of care locations includes academic medical centers, hospitals, freestanding emergency departments, physician practices, surgical and rehabilitation centers, home health agencies, nursing homes and behavioral health centers, as well as hospice and palliative care services. Carolinas HealthCare System works to enhance the overall health and wellbeing of its communities through high quality patient care, education and research programs, and numerous collaborative partnerships and initiatives.
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