The following article is from a May 3, 2023 interview with Ivonne Lopez, Executive Director of Fundación Latidos de Esperanza, Gift of Life International Affiliate in El Salvador.
According to Brenda Small, Operations Consultant at Gift of Life International, “Ivonne has done an amazing job running the program in El Salvador. She is an incredible woman, just so passionate and so kind and caring, and on top of that, she’s really good at what she does. We couldn’t ask for anybody better.” This is Ivonne’s update from El Salvador.
What does your participation with Gift of Life International mean to you and to your program?
(Ivonne) It has been a partnership that started in 2011, so right now we have been working together for more than ten years, so it has become both a work partnership, but also a friendship. Through the years we have also become friends, and like family, and that has been very important to me and to the program because it translates into better results. So through the years, the impact that we have been able to create has been huge.
If you could give people one reason to support Gift of Life, what would that be?
If you want to give hope to a family and life to a child, this is the NGO to support. Most of the children just need one surgery in order to have a normal life. It’s pretty amazing, but after the surgery, you see an immediate change.
How has your work changed since Gift of Life International has been involved in El Salvador? So going back to before 2011, and looking at where we’re at now, 12 years later?
Well, actually, they were the ones who started Latidos de Esperanza, and I don’t think we wouldn’t be where we are today without them. It’s also because it is very important to be a part of an international organization because it gives us legitimacy, and here in El Salvador that is very important.
And also we are not only able to show the results from El Salvador but also to show the results of Gift of Life International worldwide. So that has opened doors for us, to donors, to the Ministry of Health. Gift of Life helped open the door at the beginning with the administration of the hospital.
So all of these have created better relationships with the program here in El Salvador and with our donors. One of the most important things is to know that we have their support through everything we do here in El Salvador.
It’s easier for everyone to say yes when they know that this is such an efficient organization?
Yes, that’s right. It’s not the same saying to say that it’s a small local NGO that is trying to help the program rather than saying it’s a small local NGO but behind you have a bigger partner that is supporting you all the way.
El Salvador became a gift of life legacy program back in 2018. How is your sustainable pediatric cardiac program going at this point? What’s happening now?
Well, right now, the Salvadorans are able to treat around 200 children per year. When we started, they were doing around 80 surgeries per year, and most of them were done through missions. The sustainability that we have been able to create, and the strengthening of the program have allowed them to do the surgeries on their own. We have also created important projects that have allowed them to do what they’re doing now. For example, in 2017, we created a new ICU that has 6 beds. I would say that is the most important project that we have developed at the hospital because it allowed them to increase the number of surgeries that were done per year, to reduce infections also, and now the surgeries are not being cancelled because of a lack of beds. Now they have beds to be used just for the program.
The kids used to be spread throughout the general ward, and now they have a special cardiac room for the kids. And this helps the doctors and the nurses to have better control of the children. This room is equipped with monitors, with respiratory therapy equipment. EKG equipment. So children can be diagnosed and the doctors can monitor them in a closer way, and importantly, that is part of achieving sustainability. We have trained new staff that are crucial for the program including a perfusionist and an anesthesiologist. It took us around nine years to get this.
These people are now in place, not because we didn’t have the resources or the willingness to do it.
Just because the right people were not found. Now we have two additional perfusionists and one additional anesthesiologist as part of the program. This is part of the reason why we are now able to do surgeries every single day. It has never happened before. For the last two months, every single day they have been performing surgeries at Bloom Hospital. So I think this is a huge improvement. And I’m very proud to say that the reason that they have been able to do surgeries every single day has been because of our partnership with Gift of Life because we were the ones in charge of training these people.
Ivonne, can you speak a little bit as well to the ORs and how they’ve changed over the years, and then provide a little bit of a background on Hospital Bloom, and what the situation was like in the old ICU versus the new ICU?
Bloom Hospital is the only National Children’s Hospital in the country. So all children are referred to this hospital in order to get treatment. We were able, through Gift of Life and the Rotary grants, to equip basically the whole OR where the surgeries are. The open heart surgeries are done at Bloom Hospital. We have also provided them with new echocardiograms. I think we have donated at least three echocardiograms with TEE probes, and in the 30 years that the program has existed, they have never had TEE probes, and, thanks to our work, they finally have it.
We have also helped another hospital. That is very important in our country, that is, in the eastern side of the country. This hospital doesn’t treat children, but they diagnose them, and they also do a follow-up on them, and then they refer the children to Bloom Hospital for treatment. We also helped them out with monitors, with EKGs.
Our work goes beyond the walls of Bloom Hospital. It’s nationwide. So that’s also very important. This year, we are also going to help with more equipment, because I think it’s important that children from all over the country receive the same quality of attention.
What are your goals for the rest of this year?
Our goal is to keep that growth alive, to keep on helping the team and the program with resources, especially providing supplies that they are lacking. There are some supplies that the hospital still is not able to purchase, either due to a lack of a budget or the lack of suppliers locally. So we will keep on helping them in that way. We also need to find a new doctor that is willing to be trained in cardiac anesthesiology, because we still need one more. Regarding Latidos de Esperanza, I would say, to grow the exposure of Latidos. I’m sure that will also translate into more donors.
What are your biggest challenges that you face right now?
Regarding Latidos de Esperanza, I would say that to publicize and create awareness. When people get to know you more, then people are more willing to donate. That it’s going to make the program even more sustainable.
How can people help to support your goal?
There will be several ways. People who don’t have the resources to donate to the foundation can spread the word about what we do. I always say to the people that maybe you are not able to give money, but you can spread the word of the things that we do to help out.
Small donations matter too. If you can give $5 that makes a big difference because if you have a lot of people giving that amount of money, then it becomes bigger and bigger.
Here in El Salvador, we have a lot of people that donate, for example, hygiene products for the moms and for the children. Pillows for children in the ICU. There are different ways that people can support the program or us.
How has Gift of Life International impacted the people of El Salvador? The children and families and the healthcare workers?
Well, I would say that, if Gift of Life wouldn’t have come to El Salvador, I can assure you that the more than 2,000 children that we have helped through the years would have not got that help. The program is where it is now thanks to Gift of Life. They have created an amazing partnership with all the doctors, with the administration, and also with the Ministry of Health, and it has also translated into trust. The doctors trust us and they trust Gift of Life. In everything, I always say that we are almost like the psychologist of the program, because when they have an issue, when they need something, they always go to us first and then to the hospital. It’s amazing, and this is because of the good relationships that we have created through the years. That’s where it is now, thanks to Gift of Life.
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.