'Gift of Live' gives a second chance of life

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
October 8, 2008 3:52:16 PM PDT
It's called "Gift of Life" and that's truly what it is. A program that's brought children from 65 different countries to the U.S. for heart surgery.

On Wednesday, a 11-year-old boy got his second chance at life.

11-year-old Jonathan Olunge is had a sound wave test to paint a picture of the hole in his heart.

"Blood is flwing throughout the hole to the right side of the heart and the right side is larger than the left chambers," said Dr. Rajesh Shenoy with Children't Hospital at Montefiore.

Just the reverse of normal made Jonathan very short of breath.

"When I run, I can't move very well, I get attacks at night when I'm falling asleep," said Jonathan.

But thanks to a program called Gift of Life, Jonathan will have open heart surgery to repair the hole. He's the 10,000 patient helped by Gift of Life, a program that's brought kids from 65 countries to the U.S. for heart surgery. The idea came to founder Robbie Donna 33 years ago.

"I read an article in a Rotarian magazine about children needing help in Uganda and that lead to Grace," said Donna.

Grace Agwaru was the first patient saved by Gift of Life at age five. She's now an economist in Uganda.

The feeling that I was the first child and now I'm involved with the 10,000 child, it's really an overwhelming experience," said Agwaru.

Perhaps because of the reach of caring across oceans and borders.

Traveling from Uganda to Children's Hospital can be an unsettling experience for a child with a heart problem. So some American families opened their hearts.

Jonathan and his mother Joyce are staying in the home of Long Islanders Jamie and Violet Mazzei during their stay. The Mazzeis flew to Uganda with Gift of Life to pick up Jonathan.

"I want to show him our structure here just as they shared their culture there with us. I wanted to show him how we live our lives," said Violet Mazzei.

Jonathan would have died a early death without this program. Six months after the surgery, he'll be a normal 11-year-old.

"He'll notice that he can participate in all sports and beat his friends. He really wants to be a football player, and I think we'll get him there," adds Dr. Shenoy. Robbie Donna says that when the families of Gift of Life's young patients are asked what's the most significant thing they learned about the U.S., the most common answer is how kind they found Americans.

For more on the Gift of Life organization, go to, WWW.GIFTOFLIFEINTERNATIONAL.ORG

STORY BY: Eyewitness News medical reporter Dr. Jay Adlersberg

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