Mulambuzi Joshuah is not likely to forget his fifth birthday.
He spent the day recovering from heart surgery that will allow him to attend school again in his village outside of Kampala, Uganda.
Mulambuzi was 1 of 20 Ugandan children who received free heart surgeries through Gift of Life India. The program is among 65 throughout the world supported by Rotary clubs and established to arrange cardiac care for young children whose families cannot afford it.
The surgeries were funded by a US$105,000 Rotary Foundation Matching Grant sponsored by the Rotary Club of Delhi Midwest and District 3010 (India), and all 17 districts in Korea.
The children, between the ages of 11 months and 12 years, arrived in New Delhi over a three-month period starting in January. Doctors at the Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre and the National Heart Institute performed surgeries to correct their congenital heart defects. Several of the children needed immediate attention.
“Many of them were overdue,” says Dr. A.C. Peter, a member of the Rotary Club of Delhi East End and Gift of Life India national coordinator. “After surgery, all these patients can lead healthy and productive lives like any other child.”
District 7250 (New York, USA) established Gift of Life India in 2002. Since its inception, the program has treated more than 500 children from India, Kenya, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Sudan, with support from Rotary clubs and Matching Grant funds.
It also receives help — including medical team coordination and prospective patient lists — from Gift of Life International, formed in 2003 to assist Gift of Life programs around the world.–
January’s Matching Grant project arose because of connections from a similar effort a year earlier, when the Indian program agreed to arrange two surgeries as part of Gift of Life International’s Our Hearts Are in Uganda campaign. Sixty Ugandan children were treated in 13 countries.
Bret Halvorson, a member of the Rotary Club of Emerald City (Seattle), Washington, USA, and a native of Korea, escorted one of the children and her mother from the airport in Seoul to a local hospital. Wanting to help more Ugandan youth, Korean Past District Governor Sangkoo Yun and Youngsuk Yoon, then district governor-elect, suggested a follow-up project to Halvorson, a Gift of Life beneficiary himself.
The three met with Peter, Past RI Director Sushil Gupta, and Gift of Life International founder Robert Donno at the 2009 RI Convention in Birmingham, England, where they worked through details of the January Matching Grant project.
“Everything came together nicely,” says Halvorson. “I’m just happy that I can be a part of that — to pay it forward to these children who are in the same position that I was.”
Korean Rotarians pooled District Designated Fund (DDF) allocations. Grace Agwaru, a member of the Rotary Club of Soroti Central, Uganda, and the first Gift of Life beneficiary, worked with fellow Ugandan Rotarians to identify candidates for the program and help their families understand the surgery and make travel arrangements. Delhi East End club members met the children at the airport and visited them almost daily in the hospital.
“Raising DDF from all 17 districts in Korea was a major task, but we had the pronounced leadership of Yoon from District 3650,” says Yun, who stressed the role of the Rotary network in completing international service projects.
Gift of Life India also recently received a pledge of $110,000 from Rotarians in Taiwan for future surgeries.
Brenda Small is the Operations Consultant at Gift of Life International. She assumed this role in 2012.
Brenda was inspired to help children in need with heart disease after her third child was born with a complex heart defect and underwent successful open-heart surgery in her first year of life. Brenda learned of Gift of Life International in 2006 at which time she established Gift of Life Los Angeles where she holds the position of President. Between 2008 and 2012, Brenda volunteered her time to help with Gift of Life International in addition to running Gift of Life Los Angeles.
From 2012 to 2022, Brenda held the position of Director of Operations for Gift of Life International. Today, she continues this lifesaving work as Operations Consultant. Brenda also implemented the Nutritional Program in El Salvador in 2008 which has now provided nutritional support to more than 250 children and their families. Brenda has traveled with many of the Gift of Life training teams and witnessed these precious lives being saved.