AUSTIN (KXAN) — More than two dozen children in Bolivia have a new lease on life following a medical mission trip performed by an Austin-based nonprofit.
Since 2000, the nonprofit HeartGift has served more than 800 patients in over 35 countries, performing surgeries to help repair congenital heart defects. From late August through early September, a 30-person team flew to Bolivia for a 10-day medical mission, completing 25 open-heart surgeries on children ages three months to 13 years old.
Jennifer Stevens, CEO of JHL Company, participated in the trip alongside her husband Don and 17-year-old daughter Elle. She said she was first introduced to the nonprofit through her work producing the Mack, Jack & McConaughey fundraiser benefitting children.
“Earlier this year, the idea of the medical mission trip to Bolivia was brought forward,” Jennifer said. “I thought, ‘what an interesting to see full circle what we’ve experienced here and there, in bits and pieces over the years by working with HeartGift.’ So we were really honored to be included as volunteers on the mission.”
The 30-person team included 22 medical professionals who conducted the surgeries, working around the clock to complete the procedures and then monitor the children’s recoveries.
“You’ll see a child on the front end, and they need the heart surgery. In many cases, the child — their fingers are blue, their lips are blue, their feet are blue, and they’re not getting enough oxygen because of their heart issues,” she said. “Twenty-four hours after surgery, or 48 hours after surgery, they’re walking around. Their skin is pink. They’re mobile. To see the transformation, in really such a short amount of time, was just absolutely fascinating and a very rewarding experience.”
One of the awe-inspiring components of that mission, Jennifer said, was seeing it through the lens of her daughter.
“Just experiencing it through her eyes and knowing that, at a very young age, she is transformed forever by that experience,” Jennifer said, adding: “To see [volunteers] put that much time and dedication and energy into helping children that they don’t know and a country that isn’t their country, and just all because they believe in helping others and their faith really drives that to wanting to do more and to help others? That was very special.”
Surgeries performed cost roughly $25,000 per child, to cover the costs of both the procedure and the means of flying medical equipment, medicine and other supplies overseas. Jennifer said the nonprofit is always seeking donors along with volunteers who can either go on international mission trips or host and transport families coming to the U.S. for procedures.
“I think if each of us does what we can do in the sphere of influence we can have, we can do a lot,” Jennifer said.
More details about HeartGift and its mission are available online.