Save a child’s heart, save the future

Margaret Kane and Saimoni Gaunavou with Israel Pacific adviser Yarona Dadon carrying Abigail Gaunavou. Picture: SIKELI QOUNADOVU

THERE are many heroes among us, many who have gone before us and many yet to come.

However way they are seen, or how we perceive them, there will always be heroes on planet Earth.
Every now and then there are great men and women who go above and beyond the call of duty to perform remarkably in their stride to restore humanity, reaching out to the less fortunate and the vulnerable in society or trying to give a sense of meaning to life when all hope is lost.

Many of these great men and women have gained national and international recognition for work done and the work they continue to do, while on the other hand there are others who continue to do their work with a lot of passion and wish to remain anonymous.

Twenty-three years ago the late Dr Ami Cohen, a paediatrician and cardiologist, received a call from Ethiopia about a patient who had cardiac problems.

“Doctor Cohen said “we will bring him to Israel, we will treat him free of charge and then take him back home, happy and healthy”, said Brianna Fowler, the International Young Leadership director for Save A Child’s Heart.

“So we booked the flight and convinced the hospital that we operate late at night. All of the medical officials that worked, did it voluntarily. Forty children from Ethiopia were saved that first year. “Then the organisation grew later, that was very clear there was a need,” said Brianna.

Save A Child’s Heart was established by Dr Cohen after he saw there was a need to reach out to children from Least Developing Countries (LDC) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to give children with cardiac problems the best medical attention from top health experts in Israel.

The organisation is an Israeli-based international non-profit organisation committed to improving the quality of cardiac care for children.

“The organisation brings in children from developing countries to perform life-saving heart procedures in Israel,” she said.

Ms Fowler said according to research, one out every 100 children suffer from congenital hearing.

“That sets the precedence and that’s what we do and what we continue to do 23 years later and now we are always asking what we can do as well. Dr Cohen suddenly passed away in 2001, and he was young, the project was young as well. However, the impact he had on the medical team and on this organisation continued to be fulfilled. We fulfil his legacy in treating more children every year.”

Ms Fowler said since their establishment, the organisation had saved the lives of more than 4700 children from 57 countries around the world — from Africa, South America, Europe, Asia and throughout the Middle-East.

Interestingly Ms Fowler said the doctors voluntarily gave up their time and effort when it came to a child who was in need of medical help.

“I love what I do, it is an amazing place and organisation, it is such an amazing feeling for you to come and meet the team and meet the children.
“We have fundings from the EU, from foundations and organisations, but most of what we do is from private organisations. I have young people and last year university students saved 12 children. A surgery would cost $15,000 to save a child here and in other parts of the world it could be five times more but because of the health care and the health system in Israel, we pay the hospital bills.
“We don’t pay any extra because the medical team are volunteering their time. We also have amazing hub across the world that do amazing fundraising drives for us, which has helped us.
“Most of these medical officials work voluntarily without getting paid.”

Ms Fowler said skin colour, religion, ethnicity or political situation did not matter when it came to saving a child.

She said if they saw that a child needed urgent attention, the organisation would arrange for everything including travel, accommodation until the safe return with no extra cost.

“We will have clinic for children who come from Palestine or the Gaza Strip, regardless of what’s happening in the region, we will bring them in. Additionally we have brought in children from Iraq, Jordan and Afghanistan. For children that are far away, we arrange for their visa, travel and everything.
“Forty per cent of children are from Africa. At the moment we have children from Ethiopia, Senegal, Tanzania and then 10 per cent of children are from other parts of the world.
“There are a lot of children who are in need and we do our best to help them as much as we can. Last year we saved 330 children.
“Besides treating children, which is the heart of what we do, we train doctors. We have trained medical officials with regards to paediatric and cardiatric care, so that they can go back to their country and operate and treat people on the ground. The first team is in Tanzania.
“Two to three times a year our team will run medical missions, and we need you — the media to spread the word, help them remember in their announcement that our team will pack up and come to that country and if it needs immediate medical attention, we will have that child treated and flown over to Israel.
“Abigail Gaunavou is the first from the Pacific and will not be the last we will certainly be looking in to Fiji and the Pacific,” said Ms Fowler.

For mothers who have accompanied their children to the Wolfson Medical Centre in Tel Aviv, seeing the smiles on the faces of their children brings happiness to them.

“We flew all the way from Tanzania and have been here for the past two years. Today, my son is smiling and I am very happy because we now prepare to return home and I know my son will live a happy and healthy life,” said Zena Kiginga from Daresalaam, Tanzania.
“We are from Gaza (Palestine) and to leave Gaza was not easy because of the ongoing tension. I was a bit scared to bring my son to Israel but now I am happy to see my son smile and know he will be also happy,” said Ahlam Mahoodabu Diab while carrying her two-year-old son Hassn Ahmad.
“We are thankful to the Israel Government and to the team at Save A Child’s Heart for what they have done to Abigail,” said Margaret Kane.

Meanwhile, Save A Child’s Heart is willing to reach out to other developing countries to perform life changing surgeries for children.

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