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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Israel's 'Save a Child's Heart' Builds Bridges

Nine-year-old Esther had congestive heart failure and had been given only a few months to live until a unique Israeli organization stepped in to save her.

The little girl from Africa joined the 2,500 Christian, Muslim and other children helped by the Save a Child's Heart organization.

Life-Saving Heart Surgery

A group of young children danced in their village looking happy, healthy and active. But just weeks ago, each one of them was facing death. They each needed open heart surgery and they got it through Save a Child's Heart in Israel.

"The idea behind Save a Child's Heart is to provide life-saving heart surgery for children from developing countries," said Simon Fisher, the organization's executive director.

That was the case with Esther, a Christian from the Massai tribe in Tanzania. Rheumatic fever damaged her heart and she couldn't get the necessary help in her own country. She became the 2,500th patient of the Save a Child's Heart organization.

"Her heart was huge, so she was very limited in very simple tasks. Even simple walking it was difficult for her," Dr. Lior Sasson recalled.

Sister Angelika is in charge of the children's home where Esther lives. She heard about the program from a program volunteer who just happened to be riding the same bus from Kenya to Tanzania.

Angelika contacted the organization and learned a team was heading to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro two days later.

One of the physicians on the team, Dr. Godwin Goedfrey, is Tanzanian.

"Actually for me, it looks like a miracle," he said.

The team met Esther and saw she needed to have her surgery. Two months later, she was in Israel.

Dr. Sasson operated for several hours reconstructing the valve in Esther's heart.

"Now she can live normal life. She has to take preventive medicine so that her valve will not be affected," Dr. Sasson explained.

Building Bridges

Fisher says more than 50 percent of the children who have been treated by the organization are Palestinians from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

"We believe that Save a Child's Heart is a very positive message, which it sends out from the Middle East, from Israel about people working together from different nationalities and different religions for the best of our children," Fisher said.

Part of the program's goal is to train doctors from developing countries like Dr. Goedgrey who will work in Israel for five years.

"This training will be one of its kind for my country. So hopefully when I go back I will actually start the open heart surgery also for the young children," Dr. Goedfrey told CBN News.

Before and after surgery the children live in a house, usually with a parent or caregiver.

House mother Laura Kasis says the change in the children is amazing.

"You see the children going home healthy. You see children sometimes who can barely walk practically running to the gate and to the minibus to go to the airport. They're smiling and they're looking forward to going home and you know that they have a future," she said.

Less than two weeks after her surgery, Esther was dancing and with her newfound friends and sang a song she sings at home.

"I've got peace like a river. I've got peace like a river. I've got peace like a river in my soul," she sang.