Our Hearts are in El Salvador

Posted: Thursday, July 19, 2012 by Ray Riveria

Our Hearts are in El Salvador

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Gift of Life International (GOLI) and NECO have a very special bond proven through many years of partnership. Together they have traveled to countries in need, and literally, hand-in-tiny-hand, brought children out of the uncertainly of medical crises and into hospitals around the world. Since Robbie Donno began the program in 1975 with the intention of saving one child, GOLI has grown into an international aid organization that, over the past 35 years, has saved the lives of well over 10,000 children. Just as in October 2009 when they traveled to Uganda, in June of 2010 GOLI and NECO traveled to Central America bringing hope and the promise of expert pediatric cardiac care to those in need in El Salvador.

The plan was ambitious by any standard: to provide medically necessary procedures and surgeries on a minimum of 80 El Salvadorian children in a two week period. This work would be accomplished by hundreds of healthcare professionals and volunteers from around the world, many of whom dedicated personal time and money to be part of this wonderful program. Children whose needs exceeded the technological abilities of the local hospitals were transported to over 25 Gift of Life-affiliated hospitals in over 13 countries.

This plan not only provided these children with the best possible care, but also made the medical needs of El Salvadorian children known to the global community of pediatric cardiac surgeons and cardiologists. This sharing of information not only raises awareness, it also helps develop a greater network of caregivers in the GOLI network of programs.

NECO was proud to support this program and NECO's Executive Director Rosemarie Taglione traveled along with the GOLI to Central America, where she saw firsthand the lives being changed by this program. The children they traveled to help had food and shelter but little else. NECO brought everyday necessities donated by local New York businesses and friends, including 60 pairs of sneakers and shoes. But the children were most interested in ‘kid' things: “Oh, the smiles you can get with a lollipop! And stickers! They loved stickers!”

 “GOLI needed guardians to travel with the children and I was very happy to be part of this program. I didn't care where I went,” said Mrs. Taglione, “I had the pleasure of escorting two beautiful children, twelve-year-old Marta and seven-year-old Miguel, to Bergamo. They had never been on a plane before and they were very nervous. Marta was very wary and hesitant to even smile, but Miguel was a little angel, full of laughter and giggles. But Marta's nervousness was understandable. This trip was the first time she was away from her three-year-old son.”

Marta had already experienced much pain in her young life, becoming pregnant against her will at the age of nine and bearing her child without the support of family or community. She currently lives with her son in a facility created especially for young unwed mothers. The cardiac surgery provided by Our Hearts are in El Salvador will help her keep up with her active, young son and, hopefully, give her a chance to enjoy life fully, like a normal youngster.

While in Italy, the children stayed in the local villa of Dr. Gian Carlo Crupi, Surgeon in Pediatric Heart Surgery at "Ospedali Riuniti di Bergamo" General Hospital, who selflessly offered the use of his home in addition to his medical expertise. Dr. Crupi is an old friend of GOLI and NECO's, having taken part in the Our Hearts are in Uganda initiative last October.

“The children had never been on a plane before or lived in a home like the villa in Bergamo. They were overwhelmed but very happy. And they absolutely loved pizza!” The novelty of the experiences certainly helped them take their minds off of their upcoming surgeries and NECO is very happy to report that Marta and Miguel's surgeries were very successful. In fact,  all the children involved with the program are home and healthy.

The final stage of the program is to develop a plan that will create a sustainable pediatric cardiac surgery program at an El Salvadorian hospital. This will require the cooperation of the El Salvadorian government and the commitment of an in-country hospital to make a sustainable program a top priority. By this show of international support, GOLI is confident they will secure the necessary commitments before October when they convene a conference that will include all the necessary parties involved. Once all the parties are on board, GOLI plans to provide the necessary funding and support to make a sustainable pediatric cardiac surgical program a reality.

NECO is so very proud of our friends at Gift of Life International and the incredible leadership shown by Rob Raylman, their executive director. We are so honored to be part of the ‘Our Hearts…” program and look forward to many more missions with them for this truly life-saving initiative.