•   Helps children worldwide repair congenital heart defects.
  •   Sponsor a child to come to United States for Cardiac Care/surgery.
  •   Work with District and other clubs efforts.
Michelle Rohan/Special to The Sun: Michelle Rohan, far right, is pictured with one of the families she was able to work with during her Gift of Life mission to Cebu, Philippines.
Approximately 1.8 million children are born each year with a heart defect, and of that number, 93 percent do not have access to cardiac care, according to giftoflifeinternational.org. Gift of Life International is a Rotarian-based organization that has worked with more than 33,000 children from 81 countries, helping them receive treatment.
Their stated goal is to develop sustainable pediatric cardiac programs by implementing screening, surgical and training missions supported by autonomous Gift of Life programs, Rotary global grants and individual donors.
Michelle Rohan is a Moorestown resident and member of the Rotary Club of Moorestown who recently returned home from a Gift of Life surgery mission to Cebu, Philippines. It was through her involvement with her local club that she was afforded the opportunity.
According to Rohan, around 20,000 children in the Philippines are born with a congenital heart defect annually, and one out of four of those children die due to lack of medical treatment. Seeing this need, her club has funded five Gift of Life missions to the Philippines.
“Rotary Club in Moorestown is pretty passionate about international service. We have done projects with water and solar, eye surgeries, cardiac surgeries,” said Rohan.
On this latest mission in September, Rohan joined a team of international doctors and nurses who volunteered their time to work hand-in-hand with local physicians and provide training in specific cardiac procedures.
“The goal is for them to have a sustainable pediatric cardiac care unit,” said Rohan.
This particular mission hit close to home for Rohan who lost a daughter to a congenital heart condition shortly after her birth in 1999. This summer would have been her 20th birthday.
“I was approached to see if I’d be interested and I applied. It just felt right to do something within the heart community in her memory,” said Rohan.
She acted as Rotary team leader representing the U.S. on this mission. Her team was hosted by the Rotary Club of Cebu in the Philippines. While there, she acted in a support role, working with families who came to the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center, where the training and surgeries were being performed.
From Sept. 7-22, they were able to screen 72 children, perform nine surgeries, eight of which were open heart, as well as 24 cardiac catheterizations.
Although she decided not to share her personal experience with congenital heart defects with the families she worked with, preferring to keep the focus on them, she felt a strong connection with the families based on what she went through herself 20 years ago.
“I chose not to share that but I think I had a greater understanding of what they were going through, especially the parents. When you say goodbye to your child as they’re rolling down a hall ready to have open-heart surgery, there are really no words to understand how scared you are,” said Rohan. “The Philippino people are very religious, a majority of them are Catholic, and a lot of the time we just sat there and prayed for their children.
”Through social media, she has actually been able to keep in touch with some of these families since she came back home.
“The majority of the kids who had open-heart surgery are back at school. It’s pretty amazing to see a 7- or 8-year-old child who had open-heart surgery walking the next day, they’re very resilient,” said Rohan.
From this experience, she says she will remember the small moments she shared with the Philippino people and the connections she was able to make. She recalls working with three teenage girls who she brought hair brushes and scrunchies for and talked about what teenage girls in the U.S., like her own daughter, were wearing and listening to.
“We had a bit of a beauty session in the hospital, it was super fun and they were so thankful,” said Rohan.
For more information about Gift of Life International, or to make a donation, visit their website at giftoflifeinternational.org.