The “Gift of Life” has been a Rotarian-based program since 1975. Its primary purpose is to help children with heart defects receive necessary corrective heart surgery to survive. In many cases, these children live in countries where they have no access to life-saving treatment. Through medical missions and the development of sustainable programs, Gift of Life strives to save the optimum number of children while providing nutritional support following their surgery.
The program reaches children throughout the world. There currently are 74 “Gift of Life”programs on 5 continents which are non-profit, tax-exempt corporations with autonomous boards of directors and other members who are Rotarians. Over 1,000 children are provided care through this Global Network each year.
The concept began when the Manhasset (New York) Rotary Club responded to a request for help from the Kampala Rotary Club in Uganda. The response brought five-year-old Grace Agwaru on a 5,000-mile journey from Uganda to Roslyn, NY. On November 15, 1975, she underwent a successful four-hour, open-heart surgical procedure at St. Francis Hospital to close a hole between the two lower chambers of her small heart. She now is an advocate for the “Gift of Life” program in Uganda.
“GIFT OF LIFE” GROWS AND EXPANDS
And, strange as it may seem, what began as a simple response to help one small girl from a faraway country has today developed into a dynamic worldwide movement. It involves, not only thousands of Rotarians and their families, but also countless people from other community-based service and fraternal organizations, including numerous American ethnic community groups. All are united in the primary objective of providing the “Gift of Life” to children around the world.
These children range in age from infants to eighteen years, and share a common malady: a life-threatening cardiac disorder. They come from countries such as Jamaica, El Salvador, Haiti, Romania, Zambia, Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, South Africa, Mexico, Panama, Guyana, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Trinidad, St. Kitts, Belize, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, South Korea, Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Lebanon and Jordan.
Cardiac pediatric surgeons, operating room specialists and emergency room nurses donate their time to staff medical missions to Core programs where children can be helped as close to home as possible. Missions are supported through individual and corporate donations and by Rotary Clubs worldwide and in host countries.
After surgery, these children live normal lives and become contributors in their native countries. They will be future leaders and ambassadors for this life-saving program and for goodwill and peace. There still are millions of children in need of surgery, and “Gift of Life” is rapidly expanding under the leadership of Gift of Life International.
NEXT STEPS FOR “GIFT OF LIFE”
“Gift of Life” is focused on building sustainable pediatric cardiac programs in participating counties. Currently, medical centers are being developed in Uganda, El Salvador and Jamaica, and staff is being trained to provide surgeries in each locale.
For now, medical missions will continue to provide the greatest number of surgeries in countries where hospitals are not yet possible; but existing medical centers are proving successful, reaching hundreds of children each year.
The Marco Island Sunrise Rotary Club uses money from its fundraisers to partner with Gift of Life Florida, Gift of Life International and Rotary International’s Global Grants program. The club thanks its supporters, benefactors and members for their generosity to the “Gift of Life” program. Together we have saved countless lives and offer hope to those still waiting to receive life-saving surgery.