Over the past year, Gift of Life International has been on a transformative journey in the Dominican Republic. For 3 years, we have assisted a peds cardiac program and sent doctors, nurses, and surgical teams to Cedimat Hospital, in the Dominican Republic, to slowly build a sustainable and independent cardiac surgical program.
The goal is to ensure that children born with heart defects in the Dominican Republic can be successfully treated by local medical professionals.
Dr. Rodrigo Soto is a pediatric cardiac surgeon who has made many week-long trips to the Dominican Republic since 2007, at least once a year.
His mission is simple: “Going to lower and middle-income countries to help them deal with the overload of patients with CHD, congenital heart disease, that desperately need help.”
The picture above is tells a story. Now, every story has a beginning and this one has it’s wondering ending. This picture showcases the real work Gift of Life International does everyday. In 2009, Dr. Rodrigo Soto operated on Daniel, an 8 month old little boy who was born with a single ventricle. He received life saving surgery and care but his story was not over. In 2021, Dr. Soto performed the follow up surgery on Daniel when he was 12 years old. A surgery that Daniel has known was coming.
At the hospital, Daniel’s mother gave this picture to Dr. Soto, it was a picture she took 12 years before, right after her son received this life saving surgery. This is what we do every day.
Surgical teams spend a week at Cedimat Hospital, performing heart surgeries and heart catheterizations on children suffering from various heart defects, including Ventricular Septal Defect, Atrial Septal Defect, Tetralogy of Fallot, AV Canal Defect, Patent Ductus Arteriosus, Pulmonary Stenosis, Aortic Stenosis, and Coarctation of the Aorta.
These are all defects that can be healed with surgery or catheterization with a high success rate, leading to happier, fuller lives for the children affected.
For the past 10 years, Dr. Soto has been completely dedicated to global health. He sees the work that Gift of Life International does as invaluable.
“We know that only 10% of the kids born with CHD are receiving full-service medical care that includes diagnosis, treatment, and post-surgery care. So 90% of kids with CHD do not have access to this medical care. That’s a huge gap that organizations like Gift of Life International and people like myself are trying to solve.”
And Dr. Soto is not alone.
Instead of just coming in a few times a year to conduct surgeries, Gift of Life International’s additional initiative in the DR also incorporates a continuous education program for ICU nurses.
The Nurses Making a Difference
Volunteer nurses, Kelly Davis, Rebecca Dworkin, and Kaleigh Connors, with the support of Gift of Life International, have partnered with Cedimat, a regional hospital, to train local nurses and help build a self-sustaining cardiac surgical program.
The aim? Transform the cardiac surgical program into a beacon of self-sustainability. This includes the establishment of a whole new curriculum for the local nurses, complete with didactic training, simulations, and hands-on practice.
Two visits from our nurse educators have already taken place, with a third visit set for August 2023. According to Kelly, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. These visits are on top of the training visits from a more comprehensive and full team from Gift of Life International.
“It’s been really impressive to see the engagement and growth of the local nursing staff there. And our hope is that by the end of this year, the select group of local nurses that we’ve taught can then turn around and become the teachers.”
This mission, however, needs resources. By choosing to donate, you become part of this life-changing initiative, helping to spread the light of knowledge and making healthcare accessible to children worldwide.
For more inspiring stories about the work of Gift of Life International, please visit our stories page.
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.