EDINA, Minn. -- Small building, small staff and a big job. That describes the work of Edina-based Children's Heartlink, which works in six different countries, training medical staff to perform and perfect complex heart surgery for children.

"Congenital heart defects is the number one defect," said Children's Heartlink president, Jackie Boucher.

The non-profit looks for opportunities in developing countries where basic medical care is in place, along with government support on the local and national level. "Once they've sort of developed a better primary system, addressing some poverty-related diseases, a lot of communicable diseases, they're probably more prepared to start building up their surgery," Boucher said.

The operating model is different than other organizations that bring in their own teams, perform a procedure and leave. It's roots actually began on a far smaller scale.

"It started back in 1969 when they would bring occasional children from the developing world to the United States - to the University of Minnesota for charity waiver surgery," explained Dr. Joeseph Dearani, a cardiac surgeon with Children's Hearthlink partner, Mayo Clinic.

Dearani has been working with Children's Heartlink for twenty years, bringing with him a Mayo team of health professionals who work hand in hand with health providers in the host country. They train the host team, and continue to follow up to improve services.

When a hospital's cardiac care improves, it can lift the entire organization. "They get better doctors, they recruit more," Dearani explained, "Their outcome gets better, so it's a cycle that continually perpetuates more and more betterment with improvement of outcome."

"We change lives, and it's really been exceedingly rewarding."

Boucher says the effects can be felt even beyond the walls of one hospital. "Those centers can train other hospitals in the region so that our investment is more sustainable."

Children's Heartlink is looking to expand with other partners to other places in the world. This fall, the organization is hosting its annual fundraising gala Friday, October 28th at the Hilton Minneapolis.