1 in 100 children are born each year with a congenital heart defect, many in areas where medical resources are scarce or non-existent. Congenital heart defect is the most common birth defect in the world, more common than childhood cancer. In industrialized countries the corrective surgery is accessible and provided regardless of financial capacity or geographic location. In other parts of the world, children may not have access and cannot sustain life without treatment. HeartGift exists to address this disparity of care, and is making an impact globally and locally. HeartGift has provided nearly 500 free life-saving surgeries to children from around the world. Nearly 500 children who now live healthy, normal lives thanks to one surgery that they may not have received without HeartGift’s support.
Caring for Children in the United States
Through our model of bringing children to the United States to have surgery, we are providing them with the best medical care, and setting them up for success and a lifetime of opportunity when they return home. Children are referred to HeartGift from individuals, physicians and international humanitarian agencies like Samaritan’s Purse and Gift of Life International. Once accepted by the medical committee consisting of pediatricians, cardiologists, and cardiothoracic surgeons, a surgery date is scheduled and travel to one of HeartGift’s chapter locations is arranged.
Our volunteer host families work with our staff to ensure the patient and their caregiver have a safe, comfortable, loving environment to stay in for 4 to 6 weeks. Thanks to our medical partnerships with children’s hospitals in Austin, Houston, New Orleans, and San Antonio,and the reduced and donated medical care they provide (nearly $12 for every $1 we pay), these surgeries are accessible for the children we serve. Without these partnerships, the surgeries would be completely out of reach.
In order to qualify for a surgery through HeartGift, a child must:
- Be 14 years old or younger
- Not have undergone previous cardiac surgery
- Have a biventricular condition that can be repaired in one operation
- Have no chromosomal abnormalities
- Have an urgent need for surgery
- Live in a developing country without access to proper treatment
Our program model is built to accept children that do not need intensive medical follow-up after surgery. We recognize that any follow-up care may not be available nor do they have the financial resources to continue it. The average cost of each surgery is $25,000, which includes travel, hospital fees/medical costs, prescriptions, and child/caregiver expenses. We are fortunate to have dedicated medical partners who generously donate their time and services to perform surgeries and local families who open their homes to care for the HeartGift child and their caregiver.
Caring for Children through Medical Missions
Through medical mission trips where surgeries are provided abroad, HeartGift sends a team of surgeons and medical professionals to Bolivia to perform surgeries for children with congenital heart defects. In 2017, HeartGift helped fund a medical mission trip to Bolivia. Dr. Breinholt, a pediatric cardiologist and Dr. Douglas, a pediatric surgeon from our partner hospital, Children’s Memorial Hermann, led a team of doctors, nurses and staff members on the trip. In a short 10 days, 21 children received life-saving heart surgery. These trips have continued once per year, with plans to expand to twice a year beginning in 2021.
In Kenya and Panama, HeartGift partners with local organizations where appropriate surgical facilities exist to fund, train and educate medical teams to perform life-saving heart surgeries in their home country.
“Involving HeartGift in the trip to Bolivia has provided the support and organization to stabilize an effort that was often difficult to sustain from year to year. The feedback has been instrumental in helping map out future improvements and sustainability for this medical mission. Twenty one children now have a brighter future and we couldn’t have done it without HeartGift.”