By the time Grace Agwaru was four years old, the doctors had already informed her parents that she would not live to more than 16 years of age. She needed corrective open heart surgery, and her condition continued to worsen daily. With no facilities in Uganda to perform the surgery she needed, it appeared as though she would die.
Through contacts made by doctors and the Rotary Club of Kampala, Grace and her family were soon told there was hope. The Rotary Club of Manhasset and St. Francis Hospital, both on Long Island, New York, had offered to help Grace.
Grace’s parents were frightened as they considered the long road ahead, but they knew this was her only chance.
Grace and her father traveled to the United States for the operation nearly 35 years ago. (To this day, Mr. Agwaru is still amazed the hospitality he received from everyone he met as he traveled to the United States.) Finally, on the 15th of November, 1975, Grace received her “Gift of Life,” at the age of 5.
Since that day, her whole life has changed. Immediately, after surgery, Grace observed that she “got all my energy back”.
Grace enthusiastically maintains that this experience has made her feel special.
“I have been given a second chance at life. I have lived so far, for 38 years — 22 more than the maximum life that the doctors had originally thought,” she noted.
Grace also observed that her family helped her to realize the special gift that she is. “God has a special mission for me. To me, Gift of Life is my centerpiece. It has not only given me a new physical heart, but a spiritual one, too. Having a new life means I should justify my reason for living. That is my challenge.”
Grace believes her second chance at life motivates her in important making life choices. Currently, she is completing her master’s degree in agricultural extension and management. Through her career with the Pearl of Africa Foundation, she has worked with disadvantaged communities both at her work place and in her home village, encouraging them to appreciate themselves as well as being self-sufficient.
This year, she and her father formed a Rotary Club in her hometown of Soroti. Working with the Gift of Life, she is hoping to help children with heart defects get the same second chance at life that she received.
Grace notes, “I will forever be thankful to Rotary, my family, and the entire Gift of Life family.”
Rob Raylman is the Chief Executive officer for Gift of Life International. He assumed this role in 2008.
Rob is a life-long resident of New York State. He graduated Hobart College in 1984 with a BS in Political Science. Over the years, he worked for US Senator Alfonse D’Amato and held the position of Vice President for Browning-Ferris Industries (at the time, the second largest international solid waste company in the world). In 2008, Rob created the position of CEO for Gift of Life International. Since then, he was visited 38 countries on 5 continents to build the Gift of Life Global Network of 84 affiliates. During Rob’s tenure with Gift of Life International, 30 affiliates have been created while over 35,000 children have received care for their heart defects.
Rob focuses on strategically building bridges between Gift of Life programs, foreign Governments, Rotary Clubs and Districts, like-minded organizations and hospital administrations in order to address the Global Crisis of congenital heart defects.