WASHINGTON — Each year one million babies are born with congenital heart defects. Ten percent of them do not live to see their first birthday due to lack of treatment, most of them in poor and developing countries. An Israel-based organization is working to improve those children's chances for survival. The group plans to train Ethiopia's first pediatric cardiac surgeon, and its efforts to raise money for a boy named Eliyas.
Since its creation in 1995, the organization "Save a Child's Heart" has been improving the quality of cardiac care for children in developing countries who suffer from heart disease.
For the cost of $10,000, children are brought to Israel’s Wolfson Medical Center to get the surgeries they need. Save a Child's Heart executive director David Litwack said their team of volunteers helps reduce the cost.
“One of these operations in the United States can cost $100,000 to $200,000, but for us it winds up being $10,000, regardless of how many surgeries they have to have and how long they are at the hospital or how complicated the case is, room and board and a children’s home that we built two years ago for the child and his or her mother,” said Litwack.
The organization's ultimate goal is to enable countries to treat their own children.
“We made the commitment to do at least 50 children a year from Ethiopia. Equally important is that we have started training what would be Ethiopia’s first pediatric cardiac surgeon. Ethiopia, I believe, has two cardiologists for the entire country, but he would be the first Ethiopian cardiac surgeon,” said Litwack.
Recently, the medical group also trained Tanzania’s first cardiac surgeon, a process that took five years.
While 40 percent of the kids come from Africa, Save a Child's Heart has treated children from 48 different countries, including Eastern Europe, Asia, South America and the Palestinian Authority.
“Just this last year, we started bringing children from Haiti, El Salvador, Peru, and this past summer we started bringing children from Syria. What this shows you is that we will go wherever the need is,” said Michael Brown, Save a Child's Heart’s youth branch chairman in the United States.
Fundraisers and volunteer coordinators make miracles possible for the medical group. At a fundraising event in Washington, which Brown helped to organize, money is raised for a special boy.
“The goal tonight is to raise money to save the life of a young Ethiopian boy named Eliyas to get the surgery he needs to save his life,” said Brown.
Eliyas, 15, is one of 26 children who are being treated right now in Israel. Following his open heart surgery, he also had foot surgery because he had a bone malformation that prevented him from walking or running properly. His leg casts are now off and doctors say his chest is healing well. He might return to Ethiopia in about a month.
Ethiopian Embassy Minister Counselor and head of public diplomacy Wahide Belay praised the effort.
“We are honestly very pleased with the turnout tonight with their noble cause. So we are very supportive of their mission," said Belay.
The event raised more than $10,000, and Eliyas is among the more than 3,300 children the group has treated in the last decade.