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Mending the World’s Broken Hearts

Children born with a heart defect in America are treated and grow up living normal, happy lives. In fact, the procedure is so routine, surgeons can perform three in one day. However, with little to no access to health care, children with the same defect in remote areas of the world may go untreated for years, if they receive treatment at all.

The HeartGift Foundation is mending those hearts. With chapters in Texas and Louisiana, HeartGift helps children like Louise, an 11-year-old girl from the West African country of Liberia, receive a procedure that would have been taken care of earlier in life if they had been born in the United States.

At no cost to the child, HeartGift coordinates his or her entire journey, from the trip to the United States for the operation through the recovery process. During the child’s stay, he or she is embraced by a host family as well as the surrounding community. “We really count on [the city] to help. It takes a village,” says Barbara Johnson, executive director of the Dallas chapter. “Our cause is pretty easy to sell. Helping save children’s lives—how can you say no to that?”

With the help of the local children’s hospital, the host city and private donations, HeartGift can save a child’s life for about $25,000, and since its inception, the organization has served more than 200 children.

Barbara says volunteers often say they feel they get as much out of the experience as the children. “Open-heart surgery is no picnic,” Barbara says. “We have a serious mission that we are carrying out, but [in the end] it’s extremely fulfilling.”
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