This week I am donating the space for my column to my friend and fellow Rotarian Bud Palmer to speak to you regarding an important program of which your Sunrise Rotary Club is a major supporter.
Marco Island Sunrise Rotary, in its weekly Zoom meeting Tuesday morning, was privileged to have Don Thomas speak and discuss the “Gift of Life” program at the invitation of John and Mary Campo, our club coordinators. Don is the Director of “Gift of Life Florida.”
Instituted in 1975 in Long Island, NY, “Gift of Life” began with one child named Grace, and now has grown into a worldwide program to provide heart repair to children who, otherwise, would not have access to these important medical procedures to live a normal life. Rotary International has adopted “Gift of Life” as a major fundraising effort, and Sunrise Rotary and its individual members expect to collect and contribute $7000 to $10,000 this year. The club intends to submit for matching funds from Rotary International through the Rotary Foundation to multiply the effort. Rotarians encourage all to contribute. If you know a Rotarian, just earmark your donation for “Gift of Life” and include your name and address for tax donation credit.
Rotary Club members recall that once upon a time, annually, a child would come from Haiti and be introduced to the club at a morning meeting prior to his or her procedure at Tampa Children’s Hospital or Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, FL. The child would be lethargic and had little energy.
After the procedure, the child would again visit the club before returning home. After the heart repair, the transformation could only be described as amazing. The energy level was dramatic. The child was running around and eating like a normal five-year-old or seven-year-old.
More recently, Sunrise Rotary has been involved with St. Damien’s Hospital in Haiti. Father Rick and Sister Judy have been the principal facilitators at St. Damien’s. The cost of travel, doctors, nurses and assistants is primarily voluntary, and a child no longer is required to be transported to a hospital in the U.S. The objective is to make the program self-sustaining in the country where the child lives. Haiti is working toward that goal.
In 2018, Uganda and El Salvador became self-sustaining. US medical staff now volunteer and partner with local in-country medical staff to train and provide heart procedures. The result is now multiplied to serve a far greater number of children. In 2018, “Gift of Life” provided 3600 procedures worldwide. The Pediatric Cardiac Program has been a beacon of hope for many, many children.
Uganda is an example of a self-sustaining program able to reach more patients and give an emerging nation the hope and joy of helping their own children in their own nation. El Salvador is a shining example of where “Gift of Life” has shown great success. Working with government, local hospitals, health care professionals and on-the-ground facilitators to help develop one of the strongest self-sustaining programs in Central America, “Gift of Life” is helping the Salvadorans to train and equip a program where children would otherwise not be alive.
In Eastern Europe, areas where children have very few resources for health care, the city of Bucharest, Romania, now has a world class facility. The Ministry of Health has allowed the introduction of state-of-the-art equipment, with the local hospital providing a team that is able to operate and treat, ultimately, hundreds of children.
After the medical procedures, a program is in place to help track a child’s progress, and even the child’s growth, with nutrition and health programs to help ensure they get stronger as they get older. In this way, the program not only has changed the lives of the children, but of whole families.
In 2012, with other Rotarians, I had the occasion to visit Saigon. At dinner with a Rotarian named Robin who was from North Carolina but living in Vietnam, she asked about her former club’s “Gift of Life” effort. She had wanted to take children into a Saigon clinic for heart repair. Unfortunately, the Communist government would not allow Rotary or other service organizations to operate in Vietnam. But, modeled after the Rotary program, Robin decided to do it on her own, and now has a large multi-level process taking care of children for more than just heart repair. She uses volunteer doctors, nurses, attendants and clinics, and serves children in a sustaining program from all over South Vietnam.
Truly, when you see children blossom, as Rotarians have with “Gift of Life,” it stirs your emotions to do more. “Gift of Life” can be done in every country. With Rotary’s help to identify the need and create the infrastructure to make it happen, families can now share important moments and experience the joy of walking away with a healthier child into a brighter future.
Please help us in healing little hearts around the world. Simply send your donation to Sunrise Rotary, P.O. Box 1427, Marco Island, FL 34146. Make your check out to Sunrise Rotary Marco Island and note it is for “Gift of Life.”