We had to heal at least 10 tiny broken hearts. But God likes to surprise us in ways we do not expect.
Project [email protected] was launched Feb. 21, on what would’ve been my late son’s 24th birthday. Along with esteemed interventional pediatric cardiologist Jonas del Rosario, we sent out a call for donations of P20,000 each so that we could heal 20 children in time for my son’s 20th death anniversary on June 3.
The response we received was a tremendous outpouring of love and generosity.
In the past month, we have surpassed the targeted 10 children, and slowly making our way to 20. God has been so gracious, and we are more than grateful to everyone who has donated generously to the project. It may even look like we’ll be able to heal the hearts of 25 children come June 3. God is truly amazing.
The children come from all over, and their average age is from six months to 15 years. The procedure approximately costs P40,000 per child. All funds received go straight to the medical device supplier. Everyone on the team provides services for free.
Our very first patient, a five-year-old girl with a hole in her heart, came from Mindoro. Her mother had heard of the program, and borrowed money to bring the little girl to Manila and see Dr. Del Rosario. They lined up very early at the outpatient department of the Philippine Children’s Medical Center to have her checked. Thankfully, her condition was suitable for the type of intervention we were offering.
Today, she is very healthy and back in school, running around with her classmates, where before she would miss many days of school and only sit on the sidelines watching.
There have been children from Bais in Negros Occidental, and a little boy from sleepy Maribojoc in Bohol. Their communities pooled funds for them to make the trip to Manila to undergo the life-saving procedure.
When you hear these stories, your faith in humanity is restored, how the power of love and community can save a child’s life.
All of the children’s families would never have been able to afford this procedure, if not for the kindness of strangers who believed in the project. The team and I will forever be grateful to everyone who has given so generously.
Still, there are many other children in need of this procedure, as well as open-heart surgery. Globally, eight to 10 in every 1,000 newborn children will have congenital heart disease. There continues to be a dearth of pediatric cardiovascular surgeons in the country who can do as many free procedures as there are children who need them.
Dr. Del Rosario says that the country needs not only more pediatric heart surgeons but also more perfusionists (cardiopulmonary bypass doctors), nurses and operating rooms. At the PGH and the Philippine Heart Center, the waiting list for pediatric open-heart surgery are in the hundreds.
In the years following my son’s death in 1998, we built play corners in government hospitals to provide a safe space to play for children awaiting surgery.
After that, I would move into writing books about the grief experience and, later on, as I do today, run a loss and transition center where I coach the bereaved and anyone going through a loss, not just death.
Saving little lives through Project [email protected] has given the death of my son a new, deeper meaning. Every time a child comes to us and we are able to successfully repair his or her heart, in a way that will allow the child to live and grow into a productive adulthood, is a bittersweet moment.
I remember the son I lost, but at the same time, I am grateful for the lives we have been able to save because he is gone. One young life, for 20, 25, 30 or, God willing, even more lives.
My son’s little heart may have come into this world broken, and it stopped beating at age four, but today, thus far, there are 12 little children with brand-new hearts, and in those hearts, I’d like to believe that my son lives on.
A belated Happy Resurrection Day to everyone!
If you wish to help us heal more little hearts, please send an e-mail to [email protected]