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Gift of Life International

Our History

Our journey began in 1975 when the first child, Grace Agwaru, flew from Uganda to New York to have her heart healed. During her adult life, Grace has been an ambassador for Gift of Life and has helped to ensure other Ugandan children receive their Gift of Life just as she did many years ago.

“If I hadn’t had my heart surgery, I would not be here today. Gift of Life has been a central piece in my life. Doctors told me I would not live beyond 16 years. Now I am 50 years old. Thank you Gift of Life!” – Grace Agwaru

Five-year-old Grace Agwaru and her father are all smiles leaving the hospital in New York where her heart was healed.

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Our Milestones

1975 – The Beginning

The Rotarian-based program Gift of Life (GOL) began its mission of bringing one child at a time from emerging countries to the USA for cardiac treatment.

The first-ever Gift of Life recipient, Grace Agwaru (pictured in middle of photo as an adult) celebrates helping to provide care to other Ugandan children in need of cardiac care.

1983 – U.S. Presidential Support

In 1983, four-year-old Brett Halvorson was escorted by President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan from South Korea to the United States to receive essential cardiac care from Gift of Life International.

Four year old Lee Kil Woo (Brett Halvorson) arrives in the United States aboard Air Force One escorted by President and Mrs. Reagan to receive his lifesaving heart surgery.

2003 – Gift of Life International is Formed

Gift of Life International (GOLI) was formed as an official not-for-profit organization to maximize the capacity of existing GOL programs, develop new GOL programs and strengthen partnerships with like-minded NGOs.

Gift of Life Affiliates from our global network join together to celebrate the healing of little hearts around the world.

2008 – Healing 10,000 Lives

In 2008, we were also able to treat our 10,000th child, Jonathan. Jonathan, from Uganda, traveled with Grace Agwaru to New York for his surgery.

Jonathan Olunga, 10,000th Gift of Life Recipient with Grace Agwaru, 1st Gift of Life Recipient, Robina, Gift of Life Recipient and Robbie Donno Gift of Life Founder.

2009 – Our New Strategy

Shortly after healing our 10,000th child, an innovative strategy was created to develop sustainable programs and the shift was made from helping one child at a time to helping thousands each year. Gift of Life International created the strategy to focus on developing sustainable cardiac surgery, catheterization and aftercare programs in select countries. Through our new strategy, we were able to rapidly expand our treatment reach, increasing the number of children we treat in a given calendar year.

Gift of Life International CEO, Rob Raylman signs Memorandum of Understanding with the Ugandan government as part of the strategy to develop a sustainable pediatric cardiac program at the Uganda Heart Institute

2018 – Sustainability

Our Core Programs in Uganda and El Salvador reached sustainability and are now Legacy Programs where children are treated reliably in their country of birth.

Salvadoran surgeons regularly treat Salvadoran children with heart disease in their country of birth as a result of eight years of strategic development and empowerment of local healthcare professionals at Benjamin Bloom National Children’s Hospital

2019 – Maximizing our Impact

Over 3,600 children were provided hope through our global network making Gift of Life International the largest NGO providing cardiac care to children in the emerging world.

Representing 84 affiliated Gift of Life Programs across 80 countries and 5 continents, the leaders of these programs meet with Gift of Life International Executives to celebrate successes and discuss strategies to maximize our global impact and provide care to even more children in need

2020-2021 – Pandemic Response

More than 3,400 children from 24 countries were treated during the global pandemic as we empowered local healthcare professionals to utilize skills learned to light the world with hope for children in need.

Just like little Rico from The Philippines (pictured above), children from 24 countries did whatever it takes to have their heart healed during the global pandemic.

2022 – Overcoming Challenges

As pandemic restrictions eased and travel resumed, our global network responded by providing cardiac care to over 4,000 children in need – the most children treated in a single year since Gift of Life began in 1975. Additionally, through our global network, we were able to provide care to children from Ukraine like Polina.

Gift of Life International and our incredible volunteer healthcare professionals remained steadfast in our commitment to provide care to children with heart disease throughout the global pandemic and are now elated to be helping more children than ever.

2023 – Lofty Goals Achieved

Our mission to serve the children of the world living with heart disease continues to grow and reach more children in need. In 2023, through our global network of caring, we provided cardiac care to 5,003 children – the most ever treated in a single calendar year! 

With your support, our amazing volunteer healthcare professionals along with our in-country healthcare professionals around the world continue to break boundaries and provide optimal pediatric cardiac care to children in need around the world. Our healthcare professionals are our heroes.

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