We did not know that heavy breathing and a fast heartbeat were symptoms of congenital heart disease,” says Manika Baruah of Billpurai village in interior Assam. She took her one-year-old daughter, Taposhi Baruah, to a local healthcare centre but nothing helped and one day the child fell unconscious while playing and had to be rushed to a hospital in Tezpur. When the doctor said that Taposhi required a heart surgery to treat a congenital abnormality, Manika felt lost and hopeless. “We could not afford the cost of a surgery,” she says. The cardiologist told the family about Rotary’s ‘Gift of Life’ initiative that facilitates free heart surgeries for children up to 18 years, and put them in touch with the Rotary Club of Greater Tezpur, D 3240.
A worried Manika met Shivani Tiberwal, the coordinator for the Gift of Life initiative of the club. Shivani says that the families of the children who need surgeries are extremely poor and come from remote or small villages. “They have never travelled anywhere and cannot speak any other language fluently except their mother tongue. It was very difficult for us to convince them that they will be safe and that we had no hidden motive. They weren’t ready to believe that someone who wasn’t even a far-off relative would fund such an expensive surgery.”
After gaining their trust and convincing the families, eight children including Taposhi from rural Assam were sent for heart surgery to Delhi. The club contributed ₹1.5 lakh for the initial diagnosis and tests, and travel for the patients and the accompanying family members. The accommodation, with three meals a day, was arranged by Manav Ashray, a non-profit in Delhi. The cost of the surgery and post-surgical care were covered by a global grant for the Gift of Life project by RC Delhi East End, D 3011, and TRF.
All the eight children were successfully treated. “My child has returned home healthy and happy,” says Taposhi’s mother, adding that the Rotarians “were not my family or friends, not even people I know. But, they reached out to me and gave my child a new life. Thank you, Shivani M’am, and thank you Rotary.”
Having suffered from congenital heart disease herself, Shivani says, “I could associate with the pain of both the parent and child, and wanted to help these children.” She thanks Rtn Kiran Joshi from RC Shillong, D 3240, for having introduced her to this project at their district conference last year. “This project is beyond borders, caste, creed, religion, race and colour. Because every week, a minimum of three children from India and overseas are operated upon under Gift of Life,” she adds.
“The aim of this initiative is to reduce the economic and physiological burden faced by families of children with congenital heart problems and help children live a happy and healthy life,” says AC Peter, National Coordinator of the Gift of Life Project. From the main diagnosis to finalising the hospital and keeping the identification of a “Rotary patient” confidential, Gift of Life does everything to ensure “the safety of the child.”