Above: The first child to receive heart surgery funded with a D7080 Rotary Foundation matching grant, is joyfully greeted by Hajra Wilson.  For photo slideshow <click here>.

"Give a 'Gift of Life' to 200 children through life-saving heart surgeries."
This was the challenge presented, by RIDN Shekhar Mehta from Calcutta, India at the Zone 22 Institute in Victoria BC.  That  statement created an impact on D7080 PDG Doug Vincent, who has since worked with Shekhar to coordinate 50 lifesaving surgeries.  Their goal was to include an opportunity for Canadian Rotarians to subsequently meet the patients & families face to face, and be touched by the outcome of this effort.

"I committed immediately to arranging funding for ten surgeries," said Doug as he recalled his discussion with Shekhar.  "I calculated that I could get a club with a heart to sponsor them."  After returning home to Ontario, Doug envisioned that through a matching grant many more children could be saved.  "I contacted Shekhar a week later and suggested we initiate a matching grant to save 50 children," said Doug.  "Imagine saving 50 lives for $50,000. - only $1000. per child."
Since then, the two Rotarians have developed a friendship that recently saw completion of funding for these surgeries through a Rotary Foundation Matching Grant.  The application was sponsored by RC Calcutta Mahanagar, RC Cambridge North, RC Waterloo and the D7090 Gift of Life committee.

Recently some Canadian Rotarians, led by AG Hajra Wilson, travelled to India for a Polio NID and while there, they visited children at the Birla Hospital in Calcutta. These were some recipients of life-saving heart surgeries and Hajra has wonderful stories to tell of the children and their families, who expressed their deep gratitude.

The 'Healing Little Hearts'  program initially began with the first surgery in July, 2006. Then President, Dr. Ram Pal Vidhawan of RC Calcutta Manahagar wanted to assist young children with congenital heart disease, whose parents could not  pay for the required surgery.  The club's initial goal was to perform six surgeries a year.

The average family income is a mere 3,000 rupees per month (about $75.00 Canadian).   Understandably, the regular cost of the surgery -  $3,500. was prohibitive.  Shekhar agreed to chair the project and under his leadership 75 children received treatment.  Dr. Bimal Khatawat joined the team and the number rose to 150 in two years.  Surgeons now donate their time and hospital(s) cooperate by only charging a nominal fee for the facilities and related medical care.

"One cannot help but be drawn into the energy and enthusiasm of Shekhar and his associates," said HajraCanadian Rotarians who have already contributed should be proud of the accomplishments and the simple gratitude of the families in Calcutta. 

"The initial project is well on it's way to success and now we're planning a second matching grant,"  said Doug . "Another 50 children will receive surgery and we're taking another Canadian group to visit the children in India, this October 2010." 

For more information, readers can contact PDG Doug Vincent at:
Reported by Patricia Dimeck and Hajra Wilson